Thoughts from the Northern Grampians

A photograph of a postcard showing a scenic panorama of Stawell

Image: Jim Carson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

On 20 June I travelled to Stawell, to facilitate two resource workshops hosted by Northern Grampians Shire Council. For the first workshop, I was pleased to meet with a broad section of people in the region who work with young people, including representatives from youth, education and health settings, the local council and sports clubs, along with two young people who were on work experience.

I began by asking participants, in small groups, to define the terms ‘participation’ and ‘engagement’. There were some interesting differences in their definitions:


  • Listening
  • Input
  • Ownership
  • Outcomes
  • Empowerment
  • Thinking
  • Satisfaction in taking part
  • Learning
  • Being involved in the whole process
  • Conversation
  • Planning events
  • Getting involved in how
  • Decision making process
  • Creating the activity
  • Planning
  • You can’t make someone be engaged
  • Wanting and choosing
  • Committed and invested


  • Just ‘there’
  • [Young people] can be compelled to be there
  • May not be actively engaged
  • Could be minimal effort [of those participating]
  • May or may not be actively learning / developing
  • Led to instead of creating
  • No decision-making by the young person
  • Being involved
  • Taking part
  • Doing the activity
  • Participate in what they have created

Overall, there appeared to be a preference for ‘engagement’ over ‘participation’, as most people felt this indicated a greater degree of young people’s agency and ownership.

To help clarify how the resources might best offer support, I asked the groups to think about some barriers that they had encountered to engaging with young people. There were a number of issues that were raised, and began discussing possible supports to address these challenges. However, as time was short and we were still to explore the group’s ideas for the new resources, I suggested that we continue a discussion about supports by collaborating on a shared online document to record our thoughts. I have started this document and I look forward to seeing participants’ contributions.

The participants returned to their small groups and came up with the following ideas for the resources:

  • Book = boring. Make it interactive, modern
  • Promote the sharing of resources, information, ideas – use social media, send updates
  • Peer regulated, so people using it can make changes and it can be evaluated and modified as it goes
  • Use a digital format / multimedia / mobile app
  • Less words / simple language
  • More ‘attractive’ for young people
  • Keep the case studies
  • More pictures
  • Needs to be interactive – games (it’s about ‘beating a mate’), give solutions, ‘choose your own adventure’
  • Video examples from young people
  • Use cartoons [for the young people’s resource]
  • Make it usable / concise for adults – ditch the preambles
  • Make a collection of interesting worksheets for photocopying
  • Include sample workshops and training
  • Use youth to create [the resources]

Thanks to all of the workshop participants for their excellent feedback, and many thanks to Amy Rhodes, Northern Grampians Shire Youth and Community Development Officer, for arranging and resourcing the session.

Stawell Town Hall

Stawell Town Hall

For the second workshop, I met that evening with the Northern Grampians Youth Action Council (YAC). As starting activities to focus the group on the themes of the resources, I asked the YAC members for their thoughts on young people’s role in communities and how they would define the term ‘engagement’. The group felt this related to:

  • Connection
  • Team
  • Propositions
  • Appealing to interests
  • Being actively involved
  • Taking interest
  • Understanding others
  • Speaking up

When asked why young people might not ‘speak up’ in Northern Grampians, the group stated:

  • Confidence
  • Don’t want to look ‘dumb’
  • Older people have pre-conceived ideas
  • Opportunities – don’t know how / who

I learned that the YAC have developed some priorities as part of the Youth Strategy they have developed for the local Council were to:

  1. Reduce alcohol and drug culture in the area
  2. Create a youth hub
  3. Improve access to, and education around, mental health
  4. Create more community events

I asked what types of support they, or other groups of young people, might need to help achieve these goals. The young people felt the following was necessary:

  • Council support
  • Government support
  • Community support, old and young
  • Money / funding

Moving the discussion back to the group’s strengths and experiences, I asked them for their tips for other young people who might want to make change. These were:

  • Make them [community members] aware
  • Make sure it’s well thought-out and well-planned
  • Show them [adults] your serious – speak their ‘language’
  • Work together
  • Talk to other people
  • Talk to people with ‘power’ (e.g. local Council)
  • Get people excited about what you’re doing

Finally. I asked the YAC for their suggestions for reinventing the existing resources:

“Brighten them up and let your hair down a little… this [current handbook] looks very serious”

“It needs to be more spaced out”

“Make it digital… make it an app… have it online and interactive. So if the people reading it are like, ‘ah!’, if they have an idea they can have an input as it’s going”

What would make it interactive?

“A comments box”

“Like a forum, or something”

“…so people can be bouncing off each other and helping each other in that way… and then the people who are running it are like, ‘oh that’s a good idea, let’s do it that way”

Any other ideas?

“Relevant pictures”

“The sections with the quotes are good… I like hearing things from real people”

“Use language that people can understand… if it’s written in dot-point form so they can read it briefly, or creating it in an Easy English way, so rather than complex sentences it’s more straight to the point… so people will read it more”

“Make it less like schoolwork, so it doesn’t look like a chore having to read it, it’s actually something you want to open and look at and it stands out… so bigger fonts, and colours and things”

“A pop-up book!”

Thanks to all of the YAC members – Taya, Lauren, Claudia, Matilda, Brad, Tianna, Alex, Bridgette, Titian, Harriet, Lily, and Ruby – for allowing me to join their meeting and for their great contributions to the project. Thanks again to Amy for facilitating my visit with the YAC.

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