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Jonathan ls

Why youth co-design creates the most effective solutions today

Discover how the 'In Real Life' (IRL) project is reimagining online safety education through co-design with young people. 

Engaging a small group of young 'Creative Advisors,' In Real Life has centred the vital role in young people's voices and lived experience as expertise being the most effective approach in creating tools and resources that accurately address the needs and concerns of young people. 

Delve into the illuminating conversation between Jonathan Vickers, an IRL Creative Advisor, and IRL Producer Daniel Donahoo, and get an insider view of how this innovative approach is shaping a safer online future.

Jonathan ls

IN REAL LIFE , a project that has reimagined online safety education, used a range of participatory approaches. One of these is a process that IRL Producer Dan, has used once before where a small group of young people where engaged to act as 'Creative Advisors'. 

As Creative Advisors , these young people are engaged early in the project planning phase and meet regularly to inform the development of the project. They are paid at an hourly rate as casual team members.

The work Creative Advisors undertook for In Real Life included project planning, co-facilitation, co-research, content creation, editing and sub editing and supporting marketing and promotion. 

An important aspect of youth participation in our approach is that the young people are seen as members of the project team first, and young people second. This way their contributions are valued as team members, and they know their lived experience will be respected and centred as expertise .

During a youth participation project, young people will require different supports and approaches, but that is the job of those in a management or coordinating position to create and hold that space for young people to contribute. 

To help share more about the approach and why it works for young people, we engaged one of our Creative Advisors, Jonathan Vickers, to join IRL Producer Daniel Donahoo, in a conversation about it.

Daniel Donhaoo, IRL Producer
Daniel Donhaoo, IRL Producer


So, Jono I’d love to write something with you about the process of being involved with In Real Life - as a Creative Advisor - I get the impression that this approach works because young people feel respected and it is acknowledged they can produce great stuff and have great ideas. 

What do you think? Is that assumption correct - and if so, why does it work?

Jonathan Vickers, IRL Creative Advisor
Jonathan Vickers, IRL Creative Advisor


I do think the Creative Advisor approach works well because it targets the opinions of those who have actual lived experience in the field of study, and I think by focusing your research on young people for this kind of thing it does establish a sense of respect for the people you’re asking. 

I think that’s really what gets young people out of their shell and generating ideas too. 

Giving young people the space to actually sit and think about something (I find) often provides the space that an idea needs to grow and actually form something. If there wasn't a process where all of these young people had to really consider it, you might have missed all of this really valuable testimony not only because you wouldn’t be looking, but because by looking you actually demand answers to questions we might know the answer to but had never given it any intentional thought.

Obviously there’s also just the stuff that young people have been trying to tell others for years that gets brought up too but I kinda find these days there are plenty of spaces to do that anyway.


And, so a big part of the success is not just listening, but responding to what young people are sharing?

If we use the logic: ‘Don’t let my generation define the usefulness of my input’ to celebrate the views of our younger generations, the same goes for older generations too


Yes, but not always. It may be an unpopular opinion, and young people are cool and all, but sourcing all of your info from high-schoolers is totally a recipe for a train-wreck. Not that kids are 'dumb', but like, a lot of adults are very clever too. 

I think that if we use the logic: ‘Don’t let my generation define the usefulness of my input’ to celebrate the views of our younger generations, the same goes for older generations too, in that we can’t discredit the lived experiences of those from a different time (or even kinda the same time) either. 

In fact, I think it’s equally as crucial to source our info from older generations or different generations because different perspectives can tell us a lot about the problems with ours.

Like if we just jump on board the young people train and take everything from our point of view as 'information gold' or whatever, then we just assume the direction we’re going in is positive. 

This may not always be the case though, and I think we see this misconception play out a lot nowadays… progression is good because its progression, but we need to consider both the new ideas from young people, and the historical context from older generations, and collaborate on a solution that can be put into reality in a way that makes sense and is actually effective.


This is fascinating. There is a theory by this guy Roger Hart. It is called “ Hart’s Ladder of Youth Participation ” and the top rung is not just totally youth-led and youth-run, but he called it “young people initiated, adult supported” and I feel like this is what you are talking about with the “train-wreck”. 

To me, the Creative Advisor piece tries to capture this by allowing it to be a collaboration of experience. I am a forty-five year old guy - what I know is how budgets work and what filming might cost and what we can achieve with a website or a campaign - but I can’t know what it is like to be you, or be a young queer person from rural Victoria, or a second-generation migrant activist from Western Sydney. 

And so, my role is to create space for those experiences and expertise to combine with what adults can bring to help realise something that makes sense for young people. 

I think many people miss that a lot in this type of work - that actually it is a collaboration and requires adults to manage the power they have (the power being them being older, usually sitting as the manager or coordinator of the project, and the way we set things up) respectfully. 

Does that resonate with you?

What do you think young people, or you as Creative Advisors, have to be aware of or thinking of in that collaborative dynamic?


Yeah that resonates well. I think ‘creating a space’ as cringy as it can sound, is what it’s all about. It both gives young people the chance to have their important say, and it also encourages young people to have those mindful interactions and shows them that their opinion should be valued and that thinking about important issues IS important because it WILL be useful.

I think young people should be aware of the amount of older people in this type of work trust them. We demand responsibility for a lot of things, and then in our inexperience or the way we’ve been raised in this generation, we are unaware that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew almost. We may have all of these innovative ideas, but need support in turning it into a reality with the tools and resources available, sometimes they are only accessible by older generations too, and may need help in developing new skills, accessing new tools and resources. Not that we should use that as an excuse, but that we should be even more motivated because of it. 

Older people often come to engage with young people without a nuanced awareness of the power and responsibility they hold.


It does make sense, building the space and the relationships of any team - but particularly when different generations are working together is important. 

OIder people often come to engage with young people without a nuanced awareness of the power and responsibility they hold. It's so important to do the work and inner reflections to check what power, privilege and knowledge we have or do not have, and recognise how this may affect your engagement with young people and the project more broadly. 

As a way of finishing off, maybe you can answer two questions I have. What advice would you give to someone else wanting to use a Creative Advisor approach on a project? And, what could be improved in how we have gone about it, do you think?


I think when it comes to advice when utilising creative advisors on projects like this, it would probably be similar to what you mentioned before, about acknowledging the power dynamic between the logistics, planning, supervising, guidance, and the ideas and experiences.


Yeah - that power dynamic aspect is the biggest thing, isn’t it. Thanks JV, appreciate you spending some time having a chat and sharing your experience.

Jonothan 'Jono' Vickers, IRL Creative Advisor (pictured left) and Daniel Donahoo, IRL Producer (pictured right)
Jonathan 'Jono' Vickers, IRL Creative Advisor (pictured left) and Daniel Donahoo, IRL Producer (pictured right)
Jonathan Vickers (pictured left) is a Creative Advisor, and Daniel Donahoo (pictured right) is the Producer of the award-winning series 'In Real Life' created by PROJECT ROCKIT and 27 Youth Creative Advisors and Youth Content Creators. 

Want to see more about In Real Life? Check out these other articles written by IRL Creative Advisors and resources to learn more:


More blogs written by IRL Creative Advisors: 

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