Isn’t it great when things really are learnt from good practice?
When my colleague Katherine, David (from the Cooncil) and I set off on our 6 hour round train trip on a Friday morning to North Ayrshire I wasn’t absolutely convinced it was great use of more than one third of my working week hours – I could feel the emails stacking up in the inbox in the office. It was a grey, bleak day and David had finished his lunchtime butties before we had even reached Haymarket… (you know the kind of trip). We had heard that North Ayrshire Council had managed to get brilliant engagement with young people when they ran a participatory budgeting for youth work in the area. Over 50% of young people in North Ayrshire had voted, which translated into around 5000 participants between the ages of 12 – 25. That is pretty impressive stuff, and we wanted to find out more.
Donna, the ‘one woman turbo engagement machine’ from North Ayrshire Council was responsible for running the show, was also impressive, but in her own words ‘not always popular’, when she added to the workload of the schools in the area. Events were run in each locality and young people voted in schools, youth centres/clubs, residential units, job centres, homeless hostels etc. In schools the voting was built into the school timetable – so they weren’t just relying on lunchtime activity. Donna saw no barriers to participation that couldn’t be crashed through with a little effort and understanding, they hadn’t got it all right straight away but every year they were getting better. Social media was used extensively to promote the voting, and a promotional video created for each project by the Council, so that each project could be promoted consistently, rather than expect projects to market themselves which can have varying outcomes depending on skill.
The youth PB project was promoted as not just being about voting but active citizenship, community cohesion/participation. As my 11-year-old is coming home with tales of how she is learning about parliament and voting, and how it’s all a bit dull, I try to instill in her how exciting it can be if you keep it real and believe that people can have a say. By being able to play her part in democracy rather than just hearing the theory might just make the difference to how engaged she is in the future.
What have we learnt? Well since that trip the Council have made some changes to their plans for the voting in the Participatory Budgeting Choose Youth Work 2018-2019 Grants programme. This year Andy Gray, Head of Schools and Lifelong Learning, has written to all Edinburgh’s secondary head teachers asking them to nominate a teacher or member of staff with whom the steering group for Choose Youth Work 2019-19 can liaise directly and organise the voting.
Perhaps taking the time out of our day to visit North Ayrshire PB made the difference, perhaps a bit like PB we needed the time to prepare and reflect for us to really take on the information, to make something happen and to make an impact.
With any luck we will see a real difference to the level of engagement with young people this year as they vote for the projects that they think sound like what they need. The truth, of course, is in the participation in the voting…and we won’t hear back about that until the votes are cast in March. Watch this space. Read more here