“No, I thought my program was the only one doing that!”
“There is no way that foundation will give us that much money.”
“They wouldn’t know which way is up if we hadn’t told them.”
Everyday youth voice programs act in autonomy. Each one acts as if it was the only youth voice program in its city, or the best youth voice program ever made. Now, both of those are may be true – but rarely so.
I have found a lot of reasons for that kind of thinking. Competing for grants and public sentiment are two glaringly obvious excuses; high self-esteem and “competition” for youth are other reasons. All of those may be valid reasons – but they may not be, as well.
One way to get an idea about what is going on around you, and to develop strong new partnerships and make in roads, do a community-wide youth voice survey. Begin with having a group of youth conduct a community-wide youth voice survey. Remember – a community can be a school building, a neighborhood, a city, or a region. Following are five steps to make that happen.
1. Gather together a small group of youth and/or adults who are committed to engaging other youths’ voices.
2. Give team members access to resources where they can learn about youth resources in your survey area. That might include the Internet, phone books and any resource guides that already exist. Make sure everyone is familiar with the tool in front of them. If no such tools exist in your area, be prepared to do door-to-door surveying of actual locations that may be potential harbors for youth voice.
3. The team should develop a working definition of “youth voice” that will allow them to identify where youth voice happens throughout the community. CommonAction defines youth voice as the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society.
4. Identify everywhere that definition exists throughout your community. Collect all locations onto one central “map”, either literally in the form of a map or in a list, etc.
5. Team members should analyze the value and depth of the youth voice throughout your community, and use this data to create a realistic, practical and need approach to youth voice in your community.