Improving youth wellbeing through inter-agency collaboration
How this case study might help you
This shares the lessons learned from the first two years of an inter-agency process focused on youth wellbeing. You may find it helpful if you are trying to build support for your organisation's participation in an inter-agency approach to improve youth wellbeing.
If you want to understand how you might start an inter-agency collaboration with young people you may find Part 1 of this case study series more helpful. Part 1 looks at the formation and early success factors of this inter-agency approach.
About the Top of the South Impact Forum
The Top of the South Impact Forum (the Forum) is a regional inter-agency group in the Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough regions. It exists to improve social outcomes for the community by improving collaboration and reducing duplication between agencies.
In early 2018, the Forum identified four focus areas. Three of these were about pressing challenges: methamphetamine, family violence and housing. As a result of advocacy from Sport Tasman, the Forum also added “young people” as a focus area. It was felt this would enable the agencies to work at “the top of the cliff” on prevention initiatives.
Sport Tasman and Sport NZ saw this as an opportunity for agencies to collaborate with young people to address the challenges of youth wellbeing in the region - given that physical activity contributes to the broader concept of wellbeing. Nigel Muir, Chief Executive of Sport Tasman, volunteered to lead the young people focus area on behalf of the Forum.
What happened in the first two years?
Formation of an Oversight Group
In 2018, an Oversight Group was formed with members from Sport Tasman, the three local authorities and several government departments. This group has funded and overseen a process to engage young people and the wider youth sector to take action to improve youth wellbeing.
The Oversight Group’s role has been to make decisions about opportunities for agencies to work together with young people. The Oversight Group has also overseen the project ideas suggested at the hui, and attempted to connect project coordinators to resources and other organisations.
Engagement with young people and the youth sector
In 2018, the Oversight Group contracted Paul McGregor, a youth engagement specialist from Business Lab, to facilitate a youth engagement process. Paul led a series of interviews and events to allow young people and agencies to agree on the key challenges for young people across the region. Four themes emerged:
- The transition to employment
- Mental health and wellbeing
- Alcohol and other drugs
- Spaces and places.
Three more hui were facilitated in 2019 to progress specific project ideas under each theme. The hui were held on Saturdays in a new youth space in Marlborough and at Sport Tasman. Each hui brought together a mix of 30 to 70 agency officials and young people aged under 25 years old. Most of the youth participants attended due to their connection with a Youth Council or a youth organisation, or were invited to attend alongside a trusted youth worker.
This case study explains what the Oversight Group sees as the key process lessons learned after two years. This is based on the Group’s observations of the programme and feedback provided by young people at the end of each hui.
Our assumptions about young people’s desired participation level were not always correct
Hart’s Ladder of Participation has proved a useful tool throughout the programme to help agencies and young people understand the kind of working relationship they would like to have.
At the start of the programme, several members of the Oversight Group assumed that young people wanted to be high up the Ladder of Participation - initiating and leading decisions and projects themselves.
However, feedback from young people has shown that sometimes they do not want to initiate or lead projects. And sometimes they do not want agencies to move up the ladder. Instead, they want agencies to better implement the level they are currently working at. For example, many agencies work at the “Consult and inform” level, but forget about the “inform” part of this level. They consult young people but do a poor job of reporting back to young people about how their voices are heard and acted on.
The hui are helping to bridge this gap, although they are certainly not a silver bullet. They have provided a regular mechanism for agencies to have ongoing conversations with young people. Several agency participants say they have learned about the importance of communicating back to young people about how their input has influenced decisions and actions.
The Hart’s Ladder template on the Ministry of Social Development website has further information about how to use the Ladder and how to decide where on the ladder a particular group might like to be.
Sometimes the most positive impacts have occurred outside the programme’s direct control
Throughout the hui, the facilitators have been attempting to organise people into project groups to take action on opportunities. However, sometimes the actions people have taken outside these organised structures have had the most significant impact.
For instance, one of the project ideas workshopped over three hui was about making school camps better serve young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Young people spoke about how camps can be intense experiences with little time for personal development amidst the many physical activities. The facilitation team from Business Lab encouraged participants to self-identify who would lead a project to improve camps, but little progress was made over three hui.
However, the discussions took on a life of their own outside the hui. A participant from Whenua Iti (an outdoor education provider) partnered with Sport Tasman and a young person who had attended a hui to make an application to Sport NZ’s’ Innovations for Young Women Design Challenge Fund. Their application was strongly influenced by what they had learned at the hui.
Challenging to communicate how it ‘fits’ with agencies’ existing work programmes
One of the continuing challenges has been to communicate how the programme fits with agencies’ existing work programmes. Some government agencies continue to question why they should participate - even when there is a clear cross-over between their agency’s purpose and the themes of the hui.
The programme is starting to have an impact on two different levels: visible project outcomes and less-visible system outcomes.
Visible project outcomes
The most visible outcomes relate to from specific projects that have emerged or been supported through the programme.
These project ideas are listed below - with each of them being at various stages of implementation. Mental Health and Wellbeing
- Wellbeing camps:
- Two teachers from Waimea College attended a hui and were inspired to test new wellbeing content and approaches at their school camps a fortnight later. They intend on building on this in 2020.
- Another hui attendee is developing new wellbeing resources for teachers to use in camps and is now working with a Council to produce these.
- Another hui attendee is progressing the idea of a collaborative holiday camp for young people that is youth-led.
- A Whenua Iti physical activity project for young women inspired by the hui now has support from Sport NZ, Sport Tasman, Tasman District Council and the Nelson City Council. This is being strongly codesigned with young women.
- Wellbeing committees: Wellbeing committees have recently started in two high schools - one in Nelson, one in Blenheim. At one of the hui, young people involved in their wellbeing committee were able to have a free and frank conversation with the teacher leading the committee about how to strengthen the youth voice. Attempts have been made to connect the two schools with wellbeing committees, but this has not yet happened in a meaningful way.
- Tuakana-teina project: A project emerged out of one hui to link primary school students with high school students in their region in peer-mentoring relationships. Thanks to support from other hui attendees, this project has now spread to four schools.
- Computer games as a mechanism for positive youth connections: At the last hui in 2019, a local community worker said he was wondering about how computer games might be used as a mechanism for positively connecting young people in real life. Thanks to the hui, he now has a small group of young people who are codesigning what this could look like.
Spaces and places
- Youth spaces hui: A “Spaces and Places Hui” was hosted to connect different organisations across the region who were working on creating “youth spaces”.
- Youth Audits: A former employee of Youth Voice Canterbury attended one of the hui to share the Youth Audit process and discuss how to bring this to the Top of the South. The Youth Audit process enables young people to train and be paid to “audit” the youth-friendliness of public spaces, places or venues. This is being progressed in 2020.
Transition to employment
- Future of Work Forum: A “Future of Work Forum” was hosted in Blenheim in 2019. Through the hui, the outcomes have been shared with Tasman and Nelson, and discussions are underway to run the Forum in all three regions in 2020 and beyond. This idea may not have been shared across the regions without the connections created through the hui.
- Help for youth jobs: At two of the hui, young people have looked at to improve the range and quality of jobs they might be able to access in their region. This feedback has been heard by agencies such as the Ministry of Social Development, which in 2020 wants to continue to work with young people through the hui to implement a solution used in other regions in a way that will work locally.
- Petition for public transport: Young people at one hui spoke about the barrier of transport, which can prevent them from getting a job. They started an online petition after the hui and this has garnered over 500 signatures. They have also presented at local leadership forums, including some of the local councils.
Alcohol and other drugs
This theme has proven most challenging to bring people together to find potential collaborative solutions. Three ideas have been discussed but have not progressed substantially:
- Combining adventure-based-activities into alcohol and other drug programmes
- Connecting mental health first responders in a "whole village" approach
- Reforming drugs and alcohol education.
Less-visible system outcomes
At a deeper and potentially more impactful level, the programme can be viewed as an investment in the systems that support youth wellbeing. By influencing behaviour, structures and mental models, the programme is impacting youth wellbeing - even if this is less visible than the immediate project outcomes.
These systems outcomes include:
Open mechanism for youth voice: Over two years, the hui have provided a mechanism for community members and agency officials to access the voices of young people - even if they do not have existing relationships with young people locally. This is resulting in more agency initiatives having a youth voice from the outset.
Agencies strengthening their capability to work with young people: For instance, after the second hui, Nelson Marlborough Health decided to create a new position of Youth Consumer Advisor to improve how the organisation serves the needs of young people. Similarly, the hui have played a significant role in influencing Sport Tasman’s leadership team’s views on how to work with children and young people.
Increased trust and connection: There is improved trust and connection between the agencies who have participated in the programme, and especially for those involved in the Oversight Group. This has made it easier for them to implement their own agencies’ work programmes and to connect the dots between related initiatives.
Increased agency recognition about the importance of youth voice: Agency leaders have been having more conversations about the value of youth voice. For instance, there was a free and frank discussion at the Top of the South Impact Forum after one of the hui where agency leaders discussed the shortcomings of existing consultation mechanisms and the challenge of involving young people in more authentic ways.
Opportunities to strengthen the programme
As the programme enters its third year, the Oversight Group is reviewing how to strengthen the programme’s impacts.
Key questions at this stage include:
- Youth leadership: How might we increase youth leadership in the programme’s oversight and delivery? How might we create a more sustainable mechanism for youth leadership and participation?
- Community and youth capability: How might we enable community members and young people to build their capability to lead the programme?
- Sharing the story with young people: How might we communicate the impact of the programme so young people understand the impact of their participation?
- Sharing the story with agency leaders: How might we communicate the impact of the programme to enable agency leaders to understand the impact beyond just the project outcomes?
- Targeted project support for youth participation: How might we provide more targeted support to projects - especially those where young people would like to take an increased leadership role?
- Integration: How might we integrate this programme with other related strategies, initiatives and forums?
In February 2020, the Oversight Group met to consider how to take the programme forward in 2020. The COVID lockdown significantly impacted these plans, and the programme has been put on hold until young people have had a chance to settle back into post-lockdown life.