Closed Collective Model – Week Three: Painting a Picture

After some technical hiccups on my end, We started the session with a check-in led by Georgina from BDYD, who asked the group to reflect on how they were feeling in that moment and to describe how they felt as a colour.

What we heard was that the group represented a range of colours  from across the spectrum, including muted tones of blue, red and green a bright touch of yellow as well as a glimpse of a rainbow peeking through. With this palette in hand we began to paint our picture of what was to come out of this process.

We then returned to the questions that we started discussing last week (you can read a reminder about them here)

Used brushes on an artist's palette of colorful oil paint for drawing and painting
Time to pick up our brushes

We cannot assume that what is on offer is appealing to every young person.

Continuing with the questions

Q3 - How do we engage different young people?

The group identified their impending site visits as an important way of exploring this question because it will bring them into contact with different young people from a range of backgrounds. This will help them identify gaps in service by noticing what demographics were not consistently represented. On this topic, Christina from TalkSpace has been asked by the other members of the group to put together a proposal for a group activity. This would involve each of the other organisations bringing two young people so that they can get an understanding of TalkSpace’s work without sensitive information being shared.

Sarah from FMC put it to the group that she saw a few core categories of young people that were not being fully engaged. The first being those who are currently not engaging with any services but who we see congregating on street corners and in parks with other people – consequently they are more likely to be vulnerable to negative influences. Fatuma from Triangoals highlighted the role that she sees food poverty playing in this in that it isn’t uncommon to see these young people hanging around cheap fast food restaurants (where they risk exploitation by gangs). 

The group then discussed what this meant in the context of their organisation, where they recognise that providing healthy snacks isn’t always the most enticing thing. They are having to navigate a careful balance between wanting to promote healthier lifestyle options without lecturing or being proscriptive – how do you create a space where young people can express themselves while being safe? 

Part of answering this means exploring an organization’s ability to establish and sustain healthy boundaries with their young people, so that conversations about less healthy options (like the occasional pizza instead of healthy snacks at meetings) can take place. 

 All of this is also happening against a backdrop of various messages that young people are given in the borough whereby fast food is always in close proximity or events targeted at young people either sponsored by fast food companies or are exclusively catered by less healthy options.

The other gap that was noted were young people who are not able to be engaged in the borough currently for because the experience various societal barriers that organisations were not necessarily set-up to help. The discussion noted:

  • Non-native English speakers, with the borough having a large proportion of them.
  • Young people from different cultural backgrounds who may not know what options are available to them, or feel less confident in attending them. Unaccompanied minors being highlighted in particular.
  • Disabled young people who face a number of barriers including: lack of suitable facilities in the borough; poor transport links to venues; lack of resourcing within organisations to meet support needs; lack of knowledge in the sector about what changes organisations could make to be more inclusive.
  • Children and young people in care or who are recent care leavers.

The group sees collaboration with different groups in the borough as the way forward, to share learning and skills around working with young people with different support needs. In this way, they can be fully included in activities and not put into their own silo. The group intends to approach another organisation to scope out what this might look like, and bring a proposal back to the group for discussion and decision.

This means that local organisations need support to develop skills and confidence around addressing support needs. This feeds back into the importance of collaboration, underlining a need  to help organisations share learning, better understand what resources are available to them, and knowing how they might work together to solve common problems. It also requires a lot of trust and bravery to know you can signpost young people without worrying that you will be crowded out by other groups. These things will ensure the sector is able to become increasingly inclusive. 

Q4 - What is the impact of our work and how do we measure it?

The group discussed the need to get feedback from any new young people who join their organisations, which also means tackling existing cliques that may have formed. Christina from TalkSpace highlighted that cliques happen when people are afraid, which is something that young people can work on with support. This means exploring their relationship with power and also leading by example as a sector – if we are able to model collaboration and sharing power within and across organisations, this changes the environment that young people find themselves in. Especially against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has seen a rise in  negative emotions in young people that lead to alienation and exclusion, it is important that they are shown different ways to interact with each other. In this way, we can build up young people’s self-worth through the work that we do and create space for their thoughts and feelings to be explored and emerge. 

The group talked about the role that they can play in noticing changes in behaviour and that this takes time because building trust with older older people can be difficult for young people (without even getting into their individual circumstances). We then discussed how we might gather feedback in creative ways, with Georgina giving the example of how, in her work, dance gives young people a tool for communication which isn’t verbal and gives youth workers insight into their inner lives. 

This is especially important when young people who are often struggling to articulate their thoughts and feelings, particularly if they are dealing with new thoughts, feelings and anxieties. This is often the circumstance where challenging behaviours emerge and being able to recognise this and react appropriately are important parts of creating safe ways for young people to test boundaries and work through difficult emotions.

This also means that organisations need to have the opportunity to  acknowledge that sometimes young people just don’t want to engage and that is ok. If engagement is pursued at all costs, then you run the risk of putting young people off even more and organisational burnout. It’s important for organisations to be able to admit when this is happening and to be able to separate it out from times when disengagement might point to changes needing to be made.

What then emerged from this conversation was that organisations are not able to measure outcomes and record changes that they observe due to a lack of time and resources. The main driver of this is that they are not the outcomes that funders are interested in, or know enough to even ask about, which means that organisations have to prioritise generating the data that will unlock funding rather than pursue interesting things that emerge from their work. It is a great shame that opportunities for development and exploration are consistently put to one side like this and ideas are not given the space to grow. 

Takeaway ideas

These discussions led to the group asking themselves if they should draw down on the money in this project to bring in someone to support them around this research and learning. This person would try and get the answers to the ideas that they’ve been exploring and noticing. There was a recognition in this that they would still have to find some time to feed into this work but that it would be a much lower time commitment were they to do this themselves. From this, the group put together a list of questions that they they are hoping to take to a research/learning partner.

The overarching question they would want a research partner to explore is “What outcomes or changes are we noticing in young people that we don’t currently have the time or resources to measure?”. In gathering proposals from interested parties, the group wants them to provide answers to these questions, as well as outlining costs.

  1. How would you like us to record our experiences for you?
  2. What role do you think young people should have in this and how would you gather feedback from them
  3. What will it require from us and how do we support it

Next time

At the end of the session we set the dates for the next three meetings. These will still be on a Monday but starting an hour later. Following on from last week’s discussion the group have invited the funder whose proposal they heard last week to have a conversation at the next meeting before making any decisions. There is also another conversation with a funder who is more generally interested in this work and who would like the opportunity to speak to the group about their experiences – this will take place on the following Monday.

Finally, we checked out with a discussion about our colours again and the feeling was that the colours were beginning to take shape and there was a clearer idea in mind of what was developing (and even a dancing rainbow). Within the group that they We’re enjoying these meetings and see them as a good way to start the week and there is even acknowledgement that this growing sense of trust and security is perhaps a little scary.

Agenda for next meeting

  • Check-in
  • Meeting with funder who made a proposal
  • Discussion and decision about the proposal
  • Moving actions forward
  • AOB
  • Check-out