Select Page

Engaging with Young People: Reflections from an IAP2 Australasia Event

Engaging with Young People: Reflections from IAP2 Australasia Event.

With Ethos Urban.

Our cities and communities should be designed for everyone – old, young and everyone in between. To create the places of tomorrow to meet the needs of future communities, we need to engage with young people. Too often though, young people are either left out of the conversation, or we get the same people turning up.

Earlier this month, Ethos Urban proudly hosted the IAP2 Australasia Sydney Local Networking Event “Engaging with Young People.” This event followed the launch of the Federal Government’s youth engagement strategy, Engage! A strategy to include young people in the decisions we make and highlighted the industry’s keen interest in empowering young voices.

With 4.7 million young Australians aged between 12 and 25—nearly a fifth of our population—the importance of ensuring young people’s voices are heard and involved in decision-making is increasingly recognised.

The Engage! strategy provides a visionary framework for how the government can collaborate with young people. It outlines three priority areas for youth engagement with government:

  • Recognise and listen to young people.
  • Empower young people to advocate and engage with government.
  • Support government to work effectively with young people.

This guide also provides principles for engaging with young people.

The Importance of Engaging Young People

Kate McClure, Principal, Social Strategy & Engagement team at Ethos Urban, explored how we can better create cities with and for young people, addressing some of the challenges and potential solutions. She identified that this is especially critical in the current context of the housing crisis.

Young people are disproportionately affected by housing affordability and cost-of-living pressures, and their concerns are increasingly evident in social media discourse, mainstream media coverage and politics.

“At this point in time, it’s not news to anyone that we have a housing crisis in this country. Young people are being disproportionately impacted, and it’s something they care about deeply,” says Kate.

“We know this because they are talking to each other via social media, it’s gaining significant traction in mainstream media, and we’re seeing it in political views and election results. Yet, their voices are still often missing from our consultation outcomes in the built environment context. So why is that?”

There are several challenges for us to consider as practitioners:

  • Selection bias, where we often only hear from the most motivated individuals, usually landowners who have strong place attachment and interest in maintaining the status quo.
  • Our development approval engagement processes are designed to capture impacts on current residents, not future or aspirational residents who may want to live an area but haven’t been able to.
  • Young people feel excluded from housing at a systemic level, yet consultation is often at the development approval stage and site-specific. While the YIMBY movement has been active to try and counter this, site-by-site activism is hugely energy intensive and hard to scale up.
  • Young people are voicing their opinions, but in forums where we aren’t listening, such as social media, making it hard to capture within formal consultation processes that impact decision making.
  • Young people often don’t feel empowered to engage in consultation processes. Standard approaches do not resonate or actively seek their involvement – often there is not a clear seat at the table.

To create better urban environments and communities with and for young people, Kate suggested:

  • Actively seeking to balance viewpoints, for example, using recruitment tools to engage participants from diverse groups, such as young people or renters, to capture their perspectives.
  • Broadening our consideration of impact, to contemplate future or aspirational residents as affected stakeholders, for example, people who work in an area but commute long distances.
  • Ensuring that young people’s impact and interest is reflected in activities, balancing the level of investment asked of participants with the level of influence offered.
  • Considering how formal processes could be adapted to be more accessible to diverse groups.
  • Purposefully welcoming young people into engagement processes, creating positive experiences where they feel heard and understand how their contributions are meaningful.

Delivering Benefits

By ensuring young people are engaged as part of your project, a more holistic viewpoint is captured:

  • Speak to people beyond the existing vocal stakeholders and known voices.
  • Bring in a future-focused perspective by hearing from the residents and voters of tomorrow.
  • Better understand how to balance benefits and impacts as they are experienced by different population cohorts.
  • Gather diverse ideas to strengthen your project and ensure it is ‘future-proofed’ in line with the aspirations of future communities.

The Need for Inclusive Consultation

The right to have a say in decisions that affect you is a core principle that underpins all engagement practice, and engaging with young people is no different. Nina Macken, Ethos Urban Director of Communications & Engagement, facilitated a vibrant panel discussion on the necessity to integrate young voices in urban planning and policy-making.

“Engaging with young people shouldn’t be treated as a ‘nice to have,'” Nina stated, highlighting the importance of youth participation. “As we know, young people have a lot to offer. We can deliver better outcomes by listening to their valuable insights, perspectives, and lived experiences.”

A special thanks to our keynote speakers from Youth Action NSW, the peak body in the State representing young people and the services that support them, Barbara Honeysett and Veronica Gordon, for their insights into advocating for young people, especially in policy-making and service provision. Thanks also to Angela Dela Cruz and Ana Corpuz for their contributions on youth engagement programs and case studies including the Parramatta Youth Choir, Kick Start Cafe and Broken Hill Lead Smart Education and Awareness Program.

The future of our cities hinges on the voices of young people, and engaging with young people is a necessity, not a trend. To ensure future communities meet their needs, we must engage with young people today, empowering them to shape the policies and environments they’ll inherit. ‘

Ethos Urban actively pursues this vision by striving to incorporate the valuable insights of young people into its work, to foster more inclusive, equitable and vibrant communities for everyone.