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5 More Ways to Overcome Barriers to Youth Engagement

The article, 5 More Ways to Overcome Barriers to Youth Engagement by Rebecca Reyes and Malana Rogers-Bursen was published in 2016 on the Everyday Democracy site, and is the second installment of challenges, after the first article of a similar name, 5 Ways to Overcome Barriers to Youth Engagement. Again, the authors share 5 common challenges to getting youth to participate and offer solutions to address each of these challenges. These tips are helpful when designing events that are more inclusive for youth and also good to keep in mind for other groups of people. Read a condensed version of the article below and find it in full on Everyday Democracy’s here.

From Everyday Democracy…

Challenge #6: Transportation
Young people may not have a car they can use on a regular basis, or even a license. Your recruitment efforts won’t be successful unless they have a way to travel to the meeting place.

Possible solutions:
-Schedule meetings and events in locations that are easily accessible by public transportation.
-Consider meeting spaces at a local school or college campus, or at least within walking distance of one.
-Set up a carpool system.

Challenge #7: The same young people are always invited
It’s easy for existing group members to invite their friends or family members to a meeting. Often times this is the most effective tactic to boost membership. However, if you’re not intentional about inviting a diverse group of people, it’s easy for the group to be homogeneous…

Possible solutions:
-To make space at the table for different youth perspectives, reach out to local schools, colleges, community centers, youth groups, and other places where young people are.
-When reaching out to student and youth groups, don’t stop with student council and student government. Have you reached out to the Black Student Alliance? The statistics club? Tutoring services?
-In addition to getting recommendations from adults, also ask the young people in the group to suggest someone to join the effort. This gives young people a voice in decision-making even before they come to your meeting.

Challenge #8: Allowing young people to try something that didn’t work in the past
It would be impossible to follow up on every idea people proposed. However, many times adults quickly dismiss ideas because “we’ve tried that before.” Young people are more likely to suggest things that have already been tried since they were not around to hear about it the first time. When we invite young people to come to the table, we need to also make space to express their ideas and opinions.

Possible solutions:
-Give everyone a fair chance to explain an idea. Perhaps once you hear more details you’ll discover that it’s not exactly the same as what’s already been tried. They may have a different way of implementing the idea. Or, the timing might be better and there’s a good chance it will successful at this point.
-If you listened to the idea but still don’t think it would be in the program’s best interest to implement it, be sure to explain why. Simply saying “no” without an explanation can lead to misunderstandings. They might think that you’re dismissing the idea just because of their age, experience, skills, etc.

Challenge #9: Young people may not be aware of unspoken norms
Many of the norms your group follows likely come from working with groups of adults and/or work settings. Young people have limited experience in both of those areas. This can have an impact on things such as what experience to highlight when applying for a position, how to format emails, understanding what certain terms mean, or how to interject in a discussion.

Possible solutions:
-Sometimes we perpetuate certain norms just because we’ve always done it a certain way, even if it might not be the most efficient way of doing things anymore. Be open to new ways of doing things. Having new people in the group can be refreshing and can help you work more effectively, so take advantage of this opportunity. It might be helpful to develop group norms together for things like how to run meetings or how to communicate with each other.
-It may be helpful t ask young people if and how they’d like to get up to speed on the topics of conversation or how things are run. Make some suggestions, but let them decide what they think will work best. And, some may feel that they don’t need any guidance at the moment. Here are some ideas you could run by them:

Challenge #10: Understanding how young people can contribute
The idea that young people don’t have as much to contribute as adults is ingrained in our culture. And as adults, we often perpetuate the same things adults told us when we were young. Young people of all ages can make a contribution whether they go to school, work in a grocery store, or are a small business owner.

Possible solutions:
-Change your frame: instead of thinking that young people are at a deficit because they don’t have much experience, start seeing the opportunity for young people to build skills at a young age by contributing to your efforts.
-We all have things to learn; young people and adults can learn from each other. As with any group member, find out what they’re good at and challenge them to take it to the next level. If they are on the debate team, perhaps they’d be interested in helping to develop messages. If they are technically savvy, they may be able to help with some of the technical logistics of an event.

Read more solutions to each of these challenges on Everyday Democracy’s site here!

About Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy (formerly called the Study Circles Resource Center) is a project of The Paul J. Aicher Foundation, a private operating foundation dedicated to strengthening deliberative democracy and improving the quality of public life in the United States. Since our founding in 1989, we’ve worked with hundreds of communities across the United States on issues such as: racial equity, poverty reduction and economic development, education reform, early childhood development and building strong neighborhoods. We work with national, regional and state organizations in order to leverage our resources and to expand the reach and impact of civic engagement processes and tools.

Resource Link: http://everyday-democracy.org/tips/5-more-ways-overcome-barriers-youth-engagement

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