Engaging Young People in Policy and Practice Development

Thoughts from Sally Hett: Creative HQ 
Sally is a public sector entrepreneur, having worked with over 10 government agencies across New Zealand. She teaches yoga and dance when she's not working hard at Creative HQ in public sector innovation.

How might we get young people to genuinely provide input to public sector decisions?

This is not a question everyone asks - but it’s regularly on my mind. With Select Committees being about politicians needing more information, not about civic dialogue, we need new ways to involve citizens, notably young people, in decision making. I can only speak about examples that have crossed my path while working for the public sector. Below I share three examples of youth engaging with policy in meaningful ways and the factors that enabled those examples.

1. DOC: Biodiversity Strategy

How can we get a more diverse and significantly larger group of young

people to engage and give their opinions to the public sector? This was the question which led to the co-creation of The Hive, a place for young people in Aotearoa to have their voices heard on the issues that matter. The Hive piloted their platform with DOC, gaining input from 250+ young people on the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.

Gav Bryce from DOC said “The Hive enabled us access to youth in a way we haven't had in government before and the quality was key, actually designing the process with youth, meant that all engagement was more genuine.”

“Through interacting with young people in the workshops, I saw how much care and excitement young people have for looking after our natural world.”

The Hive team is currently looking at how to move from a prototype to a final cross-government tool. See their website or Instagram to learn more. The Hive is a Ministry of Youth Development initiative developed through the 2018 NZ GovTech Accelerator. Curative, a creative agency based in Auckland, coordinated and facilitated the design process with youth.

Students from the Papa Taiao Youth Leadership Programme will also have a focus group session at DOC to provide insights on the strategy.[1] Visit the Papa Taiao website to learn more.

Through traditional consultation processes alone, DOC would not have heard from (many) young people. These examples are evidence of DOC going above and beyond to ensure a spotlight on youth in their strategy.

2. Wellington City Council: Engaging in a Smart City

How might we maximise public engagement to support data-driven council decisions? This was the task of a team in the 2019 NZ GovTech Accelerator.  The team came up with EngageTech, a multi-channelled digital platform where people can create personalised profiles which filters through the decisions they want to engage with, based on what they care about.

During the Accelerator, the team used the live council consultation on Wellington skate parks to test their platform, in other words, with skate park users, primarily young people. To engage them, the team went to the physical skate park, where they could talk directly with the users to gather their views directly. 

3. Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry: Youth panelist 

Having an incredible young person like Josiah Tualamali'i, actually on the panel, helped have the youth voice at the table. Josiah himself did not represent all youth, of course, however he was able to advocate for the importance of hearing from young people during the panel's three month roady across NZ. As an Advisor for the Inquiry, I saw how Josiah went above and beyond to listen to those often not heard. In my opinion, we would not have engaged with young people as much and as deeply as we did (although was it enough?) had it not been for Josiah.

Enabling factors

What do all three of the above examples have in common?

  • Public Servants going the extra mile. It’s worth it as young people will be disproportionately affected by decisions made today.
  • Location - going where young people are - either physically or digitally. WCC going to the skate park and using a digital platform, The Hive using Instagram.
  • Design the process with young people first to ensure a safe process for authentic engagement. 
  • Having young people in the team, on the panel, makes their perspectives one step less removed.

    Would it be wild to have a youth perspective requirement for policy? Food for thought, as is this whole piece.

    [1] Papa Taiao is a sustainability and ecological training organisation that enables young people to lead enterprising social, cultural and environmental projects while gaining qualifications and earthcare skills.