Sharing Power – the extra chapter

young happy women having fun outdoor , laughing and sharing good mood

Author: Jenny Ross, Collective Discovery, Learning Partner of The Listening Fund

In the last blog, Edd, the Listening Fund’s manager, wrote about our Sharing Power practice paper – highlighting the importance of being clear about the purpose of sharing power, the process through which you will do it, and what and how you will learn from your experience. 

This blog explains how we (Collective Discovery) have continued to learn and develop our thinking in this area since we published the paper in April 2022. Through our regular peer learning groups, and sessions we led with the Foyer Federation and Blagrave Trust’s partners, we’ve tested the ideas and supported organisations to think through what they might mean for them. 

In the paper we talked about the kinds of structures/roles that people were creating to share power with young people, including youth boards, ambassadors, young trustees, co-production roles, etc. There is still a huge amount to learn about these different ways of sharing power and how to do them well (we’ll be covering each of them in a podcast episode in the summer).

Culture change and continuing to listen to a wide group of young people 

We’ve seen that creating new structures and roles needs to be underpinned by a shift in organisational thinking and culture to be meaningful for young people and organisations. In addition, there is a need to balance listening to young people in formal roles and structures with regularly listening to a broader group of young people and providing opportunities for all young people to build their skills and confidence over time. 

Organisational thinking and culture:

Shift from 

Doing things to young people or taking decisions that impact on young people 

Doing things for young people or taking decisions for young people 


Doing things with young people or taking decisions with young people  

Enabling young people to do things for themselves or enabling young people to take decisions

Enabling different types of engagement and navigating which decisions to take with young people

The Listening Fund partner organisations are all committed to taking decisions with young people and creating structures and opportunities that facilitate that. But whilst all young people may want to be listened to and to see their feedback reflected in decisions, they don’t all want or feel able to sit on the board or in a steering committee or become a youth ambassador. 

Organisations are therefore also having to work through which decisions are most meaningful for young people to be involved in or take independently and which organisations can still take without them or for them.

For example, if a young person living in supported housing wants to choose the colour their room is painted or to decorate it themselves and are not allowed to – they are not going to feel listened to or empowered even if there is a youth forum or board. 

Or if an organisation might be offered a media opportunity for a young person to speak on a sensitive topic and decide that they will say no rather than letting a young person decide (because of concerns about risk) – is that safeguarding or gatekeeping?

A council wants an organisation that works with young people in care to ask young people to review their policy and guidance within a short time-scale – but the organisation suggests that their staff (some of whom are care experienced) are better placed to do this as they have experience of a wide range of situations and guidance is quite technical/abstract. 

For some young people, engaging in co-production of projects or sitting on a recruitment panel will feel more practical and tangible than joining a board or steering committee. And many young people involved with Listening Fund partners have had negative experiences of people with formal positions of power which might make them less likely to put themselves forward.  In order to build relationships of trust with a wide group of young people, there need to be a range of opportunities for engagement available. 

The value of skills-building

Over the last year we’ve also seen how organisations are exploring how they can support young people to develop skills that can support decision-making. Focusing on skills-building alongside power sharing can bring tangible benefits to young people and help mitigate power dynamics and imposter syndrome. Also, opportunities to involve young people in meaningful decisions may not be regular or predictable. This can make it hard to sustain momentum without creative and active (co) design of activities.  Skills-building sessions can help create a predictable structure and rhythm for engagement.   

It has been interesting to see how the ideas and challenges we identified in our paper have played out in the first cohort of Listening Fund partners. This year we’ll be learning more from the experiences of new partner organisations, deep diving into more topics, and sharing what we learn on this blog, in our podcast and more. Sign up to the Listening Fund newsletter using the form in the footer to get all of our latest learning and invites to upcoming events to your inbox each month.

Skip to content