The youth engagement working group is the first group that is part of the Civil Society and Testing Change project, a global project to develop and test some operational changes intended to help keep civil society organizations relevant.  The group is co-led by CIVICUS and the CS&TC project with eight members – four from the CIVICUS Youth Action Team and four from a larger global peer group. Using a virtual, design thinking process, the group generated ideas for CIVICUS with the intention that CIVICUS would choose 1-2 to test over the next two years (aligning with its new strategic plan). The goal of these initiatives is to integrate youth perspectives into overall organizational decision-making and operations.

The working group will now transition to an advisory group during the implementation period as modifications to the original idea(s) may be needed. It is also hoped that in addition to strengthening CIVICUS as an organization, the idea(s) tested will provide useful learning to other civil society organizations.

CS&TC project methodology

We have been documenting our process and methodology, which evolves and adapts as we learn, as we hope it may also be useful to others.

  • Identify a lead or co-leads for the working group who will test 1-2 of the ideas generated.
  • Identify others from a range of different perspectives who have been involved in similar initiatives or can otherwise lend an important lens.
  • Have an initial roundtable to assess the current state of the topic and ensure that the working group will provide value added to existing initiatives.
  • Appoint the working group (representing diverse perspective and experiences) and develop the working group’s multi-year plan of action.
  • Share lessons with other project working groups and as possible with the larger civil society community.

Actions taken thus far by the Youth Engagement Working Group (2016-2017)

The working group members met virtually in the latter part of 2016 and early part of 2017 via WebEx calls and continued discussions via google.doc We used a modified design thinking process – initially brainstorming ideas that were then further developed.  There were originally eight preliminary ideas, with 4 submitted to CIVICUS.  The following were the four given the highest votes by the working group and submitted to CIVICUS:

  1. Youth perspectives consciously integrated into all products and services and the work of the organization – How this might work: The lead organization would do an ‘inventory’ of all its major services, products and operational processes.  These would include but not be limited to strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, new program or project development, existing program implementation, and membership service. A cross-divisional team would develop this list and a plan for integrating youth perspectives into each.  The plan might be a multi-year one focusing on how to phase this in and sustain these perspectives over time, with benchmarks and ways to monitor and evaluate.
  2. Leadership accelerator program – preparing youth to be effective leaders in the organization.  This program should be designed in such a way as to maximize the potential of those who go through this program to end up with decision-making positions (or ways to influence decisions) in the organization by being actively engaged stakeholders.
  3. Increase number of youth as voting members to increase their influence on organizational directions – In doing this it would be important to focus on how more youth can best become active, engaged voting members, and then assess over a multi-year period what difference their participation may be making in outcomes.
  4. Formalize an internal consultancy on youth for the organization – This ‘consultancy’ could take a number of different forms, but its goal would be to have a formal designation for a youth action team like structure to provide on-going advice, input and oversight to ensure the on-going integration of youth perspectives.

Recommendation number one (and possibly others) will be tested over the coming two years.

Some possible benefits that may result

  • Absorbing the thinking and ideas of youth, which can lead to solutions that older generations may not have thought of.
  • Stimulating greater ownership of the program by youth (and ownership by a broader community).
  • Nurturing potential new leaders who come from the communities they serve.
  • Using their youth as positive role models for other youth.

Some of our process learning thus far

  • Our networks are smaller than we would like to think. We need to be intentional about reaching beyond our usual groups and bridge-building.  There are often many others working on common issues (who we may not be initially aware of) that we can learn from and collaborate with.
  • Paradigm change, like other types of changes needs practice to change our mind-sets and normal behavior patterns. This may call for strong and creative facilitation to encourage people to not fall into accustomed tracks but continually step off of them.  We also need to be intentional when we want to keep a focus on holistic/ecosystem discussions –it is very easy to get quickly siloed (climate change, youth issues, economic justice, human rights, etc..) when they are all interconnected.
  • Bonding a new group virtually, and online facilitation skills, are different than our in-person knowledge and can be a challenge. For example, it can feel easier to walk away from an hour videoconference meeting than a ½ day or full day meeting where you actually have to commit to going somewhere. Once online, activities (such as sharing personal information or icebreakers for the group to get to know each other) need to be streamlined. And without the benefit of being able to read some of the nonverbal communication among group participants, facilitators and attendees need to actively work at surfacing feedback that may happen more naturally in-person.
  • Cross-generational dialogue (actually listening and adopting some of the ideas from a different perspective) is increasingly important especially with a creative and activist younger generation.  Yet cross-generational dialogue isn’t something that has been written about much. Especially when it comes to significant organizational and societal change, blending the lessons of ‘veterans’ with the enthusiasm and perspectives of younger generations can be a potent combination.
  • The importance of building communication into the process. Communication is always important to change processes, but especially when working with a wide-ranging group of stakeholders it is important to ensure that you build good communication into the process.  Keeping busy people regularly up to date and flagging when you especially need them to take action can help them to engage more effectively with the project.

The next working group focusing on ideas for effective impact assessment will begin in the latter part of this year.