How do you or your team engage young people?
What theories around engagement are the basis for you, or your team’s practice?
If you are unsure about the answers to these questions then you are not alone. To quote from the introduction to the YJB KEEPS on engagement published in 2008:
The early work for this review indicated that there is a paucity of research that focuses upon effective techniques for engaging both these groups of young people. Continued searching of the literature, use of multiple and varied search terms, and exploration of databases around particular themes failed to uncover a useful mass of studies upon which robust conclusions could be drawn. …….suffice to say, we found that although there is a growing body of research that focuses upon interventions, there is rarely detailed consideration of the techniques for engaging young people that are employed within them.
This is an official source document for the YJB, so one might ask what have they been doing since their inception. Designing marginally relevant cumbersome mangerialised and bureaucratic procedures might be one answer. However I digress.
What I am going to suggest may seem rather radical – it is the main part of my doctoral thesis after all and I have to make “an original contribution to knowledge”.
Let’s lift our eyes away from social work, youth work theory and think what Apple, Nike, Mattel do to engage with children and young people. These are highly successful companies so how do they do it, and can we learn anything?
I propose that we can, but to do so we need to go to the theoretical underpinnings of their successful engagement techniques. This theory is called co-creation of value theory and it has revolutionised how companies interact with their customers. Instead of their customers being passive recipients who have sales/marketing done to them, they become active participants in the process who add value to the product/service they are purchasing and engaging with – think of iPhone apps here.
In the youth justice system we too often we have been guilty of doing “rehabilitation” at (and I stress the word ‘at’), young people. “Go on this course”; “attend this session”, etc. We have decided what we want them to get out of the order, assessment etc. A process – and I stress the word ‘process‘ – that suits our needs; they are passive recipients. (Why they would bother engaging in a process set up to satisfy someone else’s need is a pertinent question here….)
Now imagine if we turned this around and approached assessment and supervision from the perspective of “how can I and this young person struggling for agency, create as much of value from this assessment/supervision order as possible”. The aim therefore would be to co-create as much value for the young person, and YOT officer as possible.
What is this concept of value you might ask?
- The value proposition for the young person will be defined by them. Needs for education, housing, or a desire for bullying at school to stop might be examples. However just because they say something is valuable to them does not necessarily mean it is. They might moan about not having the right Nike trainers for example (note how well Nike have engaged with them!?). As a practitioner with professional skills you would need to disentangle genuine from “false” needs (thanks Marcuse!).
- The value proposition for the practitioner is to positively participate in a proper assessment of need – where ASSET fits this criteria is highly debatable in my opinion. This would mean using all their professional skills to ensure a proper assessment was done. And once a young person is on an order make sure it fits in with the their value proposition.
In summary I propose that to work effectively with young people they need to be fully engaged in the process – all the literature points to this. Practice around theories of co creation of value demonstrably work and it is my view – to be published in my doctoral thesis – that this route provides a massive opportunity for more effective working in the youth justice system.
I would be happy to discuss these matters with anyone who would like to – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (let’s get co-creating!)
I am also doing some training for a youth justice team on how co-creation theory can be applied with hard-to-engage young people. This training programme is still in “beta”/development phase and costs £400 per day. I would be happy to discuss training opportunities also.