Once you have identified in what way you plan on involving youth, you can begin preparing! This should not only involve the logistics of planning, but should also involve a change in culture in your workplace. Everyone at your organization (including those who may not be working face-to-face with young people) needs to understand the importance of youth voice and the value of keeping youth engaged and involved.
One of the biggest things to remember in preparing to incorporate youth voice is that this is not taking a step backwards. It should not feel like you are wasting time on training and educating adults and youth. In educating and training young people, the mission of your work will become clearer, and by educating and training adults you can be sure that you are involving youth the right way. Keep in mind that this is an investment. There is going to be a lot of upfront work to ensure that your youth engagement is authentic, but in return you will have informed, more effective practices and strengthen your impact.
Know Your Why
In the beginning stages it is very important to know what role and purpose you have in mind for the youth. What are some of the initial desired outcomes? With this information in mind, you will be able to better identify appropriate types of engagement strategies. Be transparent with youth once you get them involved and be open to suggestions and changes and develop a plan in partnership.
If you are thinking about including youth in staff or committee meetings, you may want to consider what times those meetings usually meet. Students may have difficulty attending if those meetings are usually during school hours. To authentically engage youth means considering what other times may be available.
How are youth going to get to meetings? They may not always have access to a car, and while public transportation may be available in larger cities, it is less likely to be found in more rural areas. If public transportation is being used, be sure to calculate how much time it takes to get across town. If there is an agency vehicle for use, it is important to know whether agency policies will allow you to drive individuals who are not clients, what kind of paperwork has to be signed to provide the transportation, and which staff are able to drive. Being able to compensate youth for their time, efforts, and travel costs (even if it is only across town) increases the likelihood that youth will prioritize bringing their voices to your group.
If youth engagement responsibilities are left to one person on the team, the efforts often will not have the support needed to succeed. It can be helpful to identify both community and organizational champions who are excited to support youth engagement efforts.
These champions should include administrators across job roles and spheres of influence and be people who enjoy working with youth and have flexibility in their schedules to attend meetings and events with youth, even If that means working at non-traditional times.
In the same respect, it is also important that there is at least one person whose job responsibility is focused on youth voice. Authentic youth engagement requires the ability to invest in building meaningful relationships with youth. Staff with other tasks and responsibilities may not have the time or resources needed to make youth engagement efforts successful.
What kinds of training have you and others in your community received on authentic youth engagement? Additional training can be a helpful tool for building excitement about youth engagement, practicing skills that will assist in engagement efforts, and developing a strategic plan to ensure that all community members feel involved and on the same page. You may also consider how to include youth in receiving, developing, and providing training.