5 tips to make your next heritage project youth-led

If you want to get more young people involved in heritage, here are 5 tips to help you plan a youth-led participation project. 

Making your next project youth-led will help you discover more about what young people want to do and might help you learn out what has been stopping them from taking part before. To be youth-led, a project needs to allow young people to be involved as much as possible, play leadership roles, and make key decisions.

1. Involve them in the initial planning

There’s a catch-22 problem with youth-led projects: you need to plan something to secure funding and encourage young people to join in, but if you plan a whole project before they’ve even signed up then how can it be youth-led? 

There are a few ways to tackle this. The first is that you can ask young people to help you plan it from the start. Presenting them with a completely blank page might be a bit overwhelming, so instead you could present a few potential ideas that they can choose from and adapt. This also allows you to factor in any project restrictions you are already aware of.

2. Focus on youth-led content

Secondly, young people can still feel in control of a project if the content remains flexible. If you focus your planning on the logistics of when, where, and how, then young people can focus on deciding what they do. For example, if in your planning with young people they’ve expressed an interest in exhibition curation, then you could organise a group which meets every Thursday at the museum, but still keep the content of the sessions open. That way young people can still choose the ideas they want to explore and try different skills to find out what they are interested in. 

3. Narrow the age range

The United Nations defines ‘youth’ as between 15 and 24, but in the UK young people are often grouped together from 13 all the way up to 26. Whilst a 13-year-old and a 26-year-old can probably find things in common, they are likely to have different interests, motivations, availability, skills and opinions. This wide age range also presents some safeguarding challenges that will need to be considered. 

If you want to find a way to work with the whole range of young people you can alleviate this problem by putting older people into leadership roles, or by narrowing the age range of individual activities so that the project as a whole still reaches everyone but each activity is more focused on a specific age.

4. Think about different levels of leadership

Everyone taking part can be a leader in some way if you include group decision making practice. Different activities can adopt different styles of leadership and there will be a time and a place for each method. Some methods of leadership to consider are: 

  • Democratic: encourage a collective decision
  • Coaching: offer new directions they might not have considered
  • Pacesetting: push them to achieve by setting the bar high and showing them the way
  • Authoritative: explain how and why to do something. This can be a useful way to start if something feels uncertain
  • Affiliative: encourage individual creativity and freedom by understanding the needs of each individual and giving lots of positive feedback

5. Find ways for young people evaluate the project

An easy starting point for this is to ask the young people to document the project. You might find that what they chose to focus on is also a good indication of what matters to them. 

Avoid long paper documents with questions that are too open like “did you enjoy the project?” These can be off putting and inaccessible to some people. Instead try to find a way to record a conversation and collect some genuine opinions. Make sure you factor a good amount of time into the project to allow this to happen. 

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