Talking participation and engagement in Bendigo

Metal sign showing directions from Bendigo

Image: Adrian Tritschler, used under a Creative Commons licence.

The next destination for the Youth Engagement Resoucres Project was Bendigo, the regional city closest to the centre of the state of Victoria.

On 9 May, I co-facilitated a youth participation and engagement workshop with Roger Holdsworth for 22 practitioners from a number of agencies working in the City of Greater Bendigo and surrounding areas. In the first part of the workshop, Roger and I asked the group to discuss the terms ‘participation’ and ‘engagement’ and presented different theories and models relating to these concepts. We helped the group to consider how the notions and models related to their work, and the implications of the different language used in work with young people.

The second half of the workshop focused on practical ways to incorporate youth participation and engagement ideals into youth provision. We began by asking the group to work through some ideas about barriers to, and enablers of, engagement with young people:

Barriers to engagement with young people:

  • Past negative experiences
  • Perceptions of who does ‘committees’
  • External influences – peer groups, family, individual self-confidence
  • It’s not cool
  • Location and time
  • Adult pressure – they [young people] turn up but don’t engage
  • Cultural barriers
  • Fear / lack of trust
  • Class barriers
  • Money
  • Perceptions of youth capabilities
  • Not knowing how (although understanding the goal)
  • Transport / access

Enablers of engagement with young people:

  • Youth design and ownership
  • Enthusiasm
  • Whether or not they value it – will it work?
  • Passion
  • Work with interests and needs of young people
  • Worker’s skill, knowledge and understanding
  • Support
  • Peers – likeminded peer group
  • Older advisors
  • Funding
  • Program expectations – clear direction and vision of outcome
  • Access and modes of communication
Period buildings in Bendigo.

Bendigo architecture. Image: Cimexus, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Discussions then moved on to consider what examples of youth engagement and participation work was currently present in the local area. Roger followed this up with some illustrations of different practice models that might be employed, taken from the findings of a City of Melbourne study on young people’s civic engagement.

I concluded the session by asking participants for their ideas about the youth engagement resources, giving them copies of the Taking Young People Seriously handbooks to look through as a starting point. There were some excellent suggestions, around a number of themes:

Design and content:

“A youthful design on the cover, rather than photos”

“Shorter” “smaller, A5 sized”

“You could put out a short, punchy version that’s got the salient points in it, and a main version you could put on the web, which would have hot links in it, video clip, talking heads, and case studies”

“Pictures of culturally diverse youth”

“Worksheet resources that are sharp and short”

“Some feedback from youth and a mechanism for youth to leave feedback”

“Video clips… something that’s visually stimulating, short and sharp”

“a range of formats: have a handbook, have an app, have it online, have factsheets”

“Worker vox-pops”

“Cut [it] in half – a ‘how to’ handbook and once a year you can release case studies or success stories to it”

‘When you are redesigning it, get young people in, get a young company to redesign it for you”

“Worker involvement in content creation”

“Include a glossary”

“Produce a DVD”

“A quick reference poster for the office wall”

“Don’t use stock-standard photos”

Stories and case studies:

“Stories and testimonies rather than case studies”

“story from someone who was really sceptical about employing young people … if you’re going to hand out a handbook to management in organisations they really need something they’re going to grab hold of…  it creates a lasting memory”

“An online project blog, where they [youth workers] are blogging the project as they go, so you can contact them and ask them how they’ve done stuff”

“I like case studies, but I want them in full depth…  how did that come about? How did they set it up? How did they recruit people to it? What did the meetings run like?” Almost a step-by-step walk through?  “Yes. They don’t even have to be the successful ones. You can learn from people’s failures”

Good use of the internet:

“Benefit of the website is that if something changes, you can change it there and it’s changed”

“The website should be easy to click around – ‘I want to go here’, ‘give me some ideas about youth participation’, ‘here’s a great case study, what worked, what didn’t’ – it’s all there for you, it’s not like a big task… it should be easy”.

“The website should be two-way where you can upload your stories and ideas… an interactive place where you can have your own case study”

“Link to Professional Development – so if you go through and read it or do a discussion or upload a vox-pop or whatever you get a certain amount of accreditation”

“Snippet emails, so every now and again you hear the really good success stories of what they’ve done, and link that to professional development” “You need to keep reminding people that it’s there”

“A database to share resources” “Include Word documents that can be downloaded and changed”

Thanks to all of the workshop participants for their active commitment throughout the session. Thanks also to Jessie Mitchell, YACVic’s Rural Youth Services Support and Advocacy Officer, Kylie Emonson of the City of Greater Bendigo, and Coral Hogan of St Luke’s Bendigo for arranging the event, and to Bendigo Headspace for hosting us.

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