Published 13 Jun 2023Resources, Communication, Critical Thinking
Want to include young people's voices in your work but not sure how?
Reanna and Dan share insights from the creation of our latest online resource for secondary schools, In Real Life, on how to successfully create a respectful co-creation space for youth participation projects that .
IN REAL LIFE brought together thirty young people to participate in online conversation and through a WhatsApp group chat that prompted them to create videos and content that reflected their digital lives, approaches, and thoughts about online safety.
One of those young people, Reanna Turvey, shared a video that spoke to the value of the community that formed around the project. It was something that didn’t necessarily sit within the IRL resource, but was such a valueable insight that I wanted to ask Reanna more about - so I did. I set up a shared document and we started chatting...
Daniel: Reanna, thanks for being part of this little back and forth. Can you explain to me more about what it was about being part of the IN REAL LIFE project that made it feel supportive?
Reanna: Yeah! So, overall this project has been a widely positive experience. You’re able to immediately connect with the people you’re working with because you’ve all signed up for offering your thoughts on a topic that is common to people our age.
I remember in the first creative advisor meeting I was drawn to Marlene as a person because she seemed like someone who shared a lot of my same passions and personality traits. Michael and I connected on the idea that 'opposites attract' so we clicked through friendly banter but also were able to create constructive conversations and thoughts together.
I think that right from the start, the group was very friendly and open to discussing different points of view in a healthy way. This was echoed when the rest of the content creation team came on board. We all knew what we were setting out to achieve so we helped each other and bounced ideas off each other.
Daniel: I understand. So there is something about being invited to the project and knowing that everyone is there out of choice, and you are open because of that fact? You don’t have to be spending energy thinking about what others motives might be? Can you give me an example of what you are talking about?
Reanna: I remember one night there was a conversation going on for over two hours on WhatsApp because people were finding common interests and connecting with each other in such an organic, teenage way. There was banter, there were compliments and there were differing opinions being sent back and forth.
I think that our team was able to create such a positive environment because we had the same experience of being young people in the online space who had thoughts to share about it. It was something that we were all passionate about. We knew that connecting with these other people who were on board would benefit us in the same way that it would benefit the others.
By treating us like real people with valid opinions, you guys were able to create a space where we didn’t feel as though our thoughts were going to be invalidated simply because of our age or other identifiers.
Daniel: What about the adults on the team?
Reanna: In terms of the whole team - Dan, Ash and Lucy - us as the teens and other young people had the utmost respect for you guys because you laid down that respect for us to begin with. By treating us like real people with valid opinions, you guys were able to create a space where we didn’t feel as though our thoughts were going to be invalidated simply because of our age or other identifiers.
I think the most important takeaway for how the project has run as positively as it has is mutual respect for each other and each other’s thoughts, opinions, or positions. I think that positive spaces can be made if people remain positive towards each other.
Daniel: I am pleased that you saw the way we tried to create a respectful space for everyone who was part of the team.
I think a lot about that, in the language I use and making sure I talk about being a team and colleagues, to ensure we see ourselves as part of the same community and work - and not separate, because I think that is how we achieve and create things that *actually* reflect the lived experience of young people and not older people’s interpretation of the lived experience of young people.
Are there specific things you can point to that matter and help make this occur? Like for me, I think paying people is a crucial part of that - it means we are all getting paid for the work, and young people aren’t being exploited. But, is there anything else that stands out for you?
You recognised that whilst we as young people have thoughts and opinions that are valuable you also acknowledged that we needed guidance within this project because we didn’t have the expertise or experience that you guys had.
Reanna: I like the balance of it all. You recognised that whilst we as young people have thoughts and opinions that are valuable you also acknowledged that we needed guidance within this project because we didn’t have the expertise or experience that you guys had.
I think this project was also able to work as well as it did because we had the benefit of already being engaged in what we were doing. If we were uninterested in the things being discussed we wouldn’t have connected and built on each other’s ideas as much as we did.
I agree that being paid definitely helped with the mutual respect we had throughout the group and across the different ages and skill levels.
Overall, I think that the environment you built up from the beginning where we offered our opinions and you guided us as to how we were supposed to present them was the main reason the program worked so well.
Daniel: I think often people think the aim of participation to “bring young people up” to the adult level, whereas I think what people fail to do is realise adults have to come down as well. And, that level is actually a really powerful thing - not a bad thing!
We need to give young people power to create and to make decisions and help direct what should happen, but they also need help to do that. A lot of that help is adults letting go of the hierarchy, and finding ways to not take over or be dismissive, or allow young people to make a decisions and then change it.
I don’t think this is an easy tension for anyone involved, but it is an important tension - we don’t always get it right - but I think that is what this article needs to be about.
An example is trying to support everyone to produce video content that can work for the project. We want everyone represented, but it still needs to be footage that can work for the editing process and for the viewer at the end - and our job in leading the project is to help you and the others develop those skills, and give direction around what might help make it better, not tell you what to say - but just support to develop the skills to capture it.
Do you think we got there with that?
Reanna: I think that sums it up really well! Anything else would be rambling I reckon.
Want to see more about In Real Life? Check out these other articles written by IRL Creative Advisors and resources to learn more: