Author: Beth Farmer, Creative Consultant and Facilitator, previously consultant to Listening Fund Scotland
What is the Listening Fund Scotland?
Between 2019 and 2021, the Listening Fund Scotland funded 11 partner organisations working with children and young people to deliver projects to deepen their listening practices and advocate for children’s voices in Scotland. This gave the partners the opportunity to dedicate time and space for listening; from forming and establishing a youth committee to developing active listening skills within the organisation.
I worked with the Listening Fund in my role at Impacts Arts, a community arts organisation that tackles inequalities in Scotland through the facilitation of artmaking, and with Access to Industry, which supports people across Scotland with barriers to employment.
I created a digital Listening Toolkit as a legacy for the Listening Fund Scotland. It is intended to be an accessible and educational resource with young people’s voices at its heart, for partners and wider organisations such as local authorities aiming to improve their listening practice.
How I developed the toolkit
During the development of the toolkit, I met with partners across Scotland in person and online to collate a wealth of knowledge, skills and resources on how best to engage with children and young people, including collaborating with the Corra team to write sections on children’s rights and Scottish government policy. Several pages of the toolkit were co-designed with young people, giving them a platform to be heard by a wider audience.
What’s in it?
Aside from outlining our key learning, which I touch on below, the toolkit includes:
– a guide to active listening
– suggestions for building trust with young people
– a guide to creating a safe space for a young person
– resources which encourage engagement and assess children and young people’s needs
– information on how to transform needs into an action plan tailored to a young person
– resources to support young people’s personal development
– a guide to developing an evaluation process to gain feedback from young people
Key learning from the Listening Fund Scotland
These are some key takeaways from the project, which are explored in more depth in the toolkit.
The importance of trusting relationships
Building trusting relationships with and creating safe spaces for young people is at the heart of providing young people with trauma-informed and person-centred support. This is foundational to the rest of what we have learned in many ways. The quality of the relationship is the bedrock of all interactions. I was able to facilitate a fruitful creative consultation with the Youth Advisors at The Junction in Edinburgh due to the strong relationships their leader Helen Munro has built with the group. They spoke openly to me about their experiences of being Youth Advisors and shared their views on safe spaces, empowering young people and inclusivity.
Young people are all different!
Every group of young people – and every young person – is different, so you need to ask what’s important to them and discover their needs, wishes and hopes. Completing the Wheel of Life exercise (pages 33-34 in the toolkit) is a great way to facilitate this conversation. There are eight different areas on the wheel and each one reflects a different area of life – you can ask a young person to rate each area of their life from 1-5. Once it’s completed, you can use the exercise to chat about their choices and which areas of their life they might want to focus on.
Creating a feedback loop is valuable
Creating a process for collecting and managing feedback, and then analysing it, is incredibly valuable – not just for the organisation, but also for the young people. Young people want to know what happens to their ideas, especially when they aren’t utilised.
The toolkit makes a suggestion on how information could flow from young people to senior management and the board, how feedback can be shared with a wider audience, and back to the young people (p 50). The Moira Anderson Foundation’s listening project was focused on creating a digital evaluation process to enable this to happen in collaboration with young people – which you can read about in the toolkit on p. 47.
Young people need different levels of, and kinds of support
Having led a youth steering group and speaking to other practitioners about their experiences, we felt that some members needed significant support to develop the complex skills required to contribute even when using a strength-based approach to assign tasks to the group. In addition, young people may not be able to contribute strategically due to their personal circumstances. Bearing this in mind is important.
Youth advisors and committees are effective ways of sharing decision-making
Many Listening Fund Scotland partners had youth advisors or a youth committee, and we found it was one of the most effective ways to gain in-depth feedback from young people and involve them in decision-making. The Junction’s Youth Advisors told me what they felt makes a good youth advisors’ group and how it should be facilitated. Their tips were:
- Make sure young people have the correct information, to help build confidence and empower them to make decisions
- Maintain good communication between staff, trustees and young people
- Take actions based on what young people say, where possible
- Offer multiple ways for young people to participate in the group
- Work with the group individually to develop strengths and work on goals
- Use simple language and explain complicated terms if needed
- Use communication channels chosen by young people
Thinking about what young people can gain from the relationship is important!
Often, children and young people like to get something back in return for their contribution. Partners found that providing a food offering or planning a fun activity were ways to maintain regular attendance. For example, the Girvan Trust User Group helped to run bingo nights for their local community, and created hampers to raffle to fundraise for the Trust.
Listening well to young people in these contexts is not easy!
Listening requires resources and dedication. So, if you’re on the journey and finding it challenging, that is normal! You can read more about key challenges partners in Scotland faced in the toolkit.
We hope that the toolkit inspires and empowers practitioners who work with children and young people and want to improve their accountability to young people, now and in the future. The toolkit is a live resource so please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to add anything – we’d like to maintain momentum behind the importance of listing.
Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the development of the toolkit – both the young people and staff from the Listening Fund Scotland partner organisations.