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Want to make a bigger impact? Involve young people in organizational design and leadership

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Want to make a bigger impact? Involve young people in organizational design and leadership

By team members from The Kentucky Student Voice Team and from the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, co-authors of a new report titled The Co-Creation Generation: The Story of the Kentucky Student Voice Team & Guide to Intergenerational Impact.

There are many lessons to learn from a new report written by a team of youth and adults. "The Co-Creation Generation: The Story of the Kentucky Student Voice Team & Guide to Intergenerational Impact" is a treasure trove of tips and tricks to help organizations engage young people in program design and organizational leadership. It is also the self-written origin story of the Kentucky Student Voice Team (KSVT), charting their transition from a program within an adult-led organization to an independent youth-led non-profit, and sharing resources, lessons learned, and good practices for engaging youth and adults in meaningful partnership and impactful work in the process.

The idea for the collaboration was sparked by the Civic Spring Project, a national grant initiative led by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars (C&S) which co-wrote the report. During Civic Spring, six youth-centered and/or youth-led grantee organizations – including the KSVT – demonstrated what out-of-school time (OST) practitioners already know well: significant civic learning takes place in after-school programs, on the sports field, at summer camp, in community service groups, and at home.

Through Civic Spring, C&S also observed the following: 

  1. Intergenerational co-design and co-leadership maximizes impact by including more voices, particularly the voices of youth, who are often most affected and yet rarely included in decision- and policy-making.?
  1. Through this work, young people build civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions, and interact with people with diverse backgrounds and varying beliefs.
  1. Many adult-led organizations and youth want to do this kind of work, but there is a lack of resources for building and sustaining meaningful youth-led and intergenerational initiatives. 

Citizens & Scholars and the Kentucky Student Voice Team partnered to produce this report because it felt both important and timely. The “Co-Creation Generation” project comes at a time when youth are increasingly watching decisions which disproportionately impact their lives in the context of a hyper-polarized public square. At the same time, research indicates that the generation coming of age are more socially and politically aware, more engaged, and feel more optimistic about their ability to affect change. Ideally, programs outside of school not only serve youth, but involve them at the design and leadership levels so that they can learn, teach, organize, advocate, and lead on the issues of importance to them. 

The lessons found in the "Co-Creation Generation" report are intended to spark conversation within organizations about how young people and adults work together to best serve our programs, our communities, and our future. As there are multiple approaches to intergenerational engagement, the principles, tips, and recommendations shared in the report—including how to engage youth in every aspect of the work and how to communicate across platforms—are not intended to be prescriptive. Instead the report is meant to provide guideposts which, in combination with the real-life stories and lessons from the KSVT, make this work feel approachable, achievable, and necessary. As students, adult practitioners, and supporters, we’ve seen that youth-adult engagement at the leadership level not only positively impacts the youth involved—but also benefits the adults, organizational culture, the programs themselves, and the communities they serve.  

To expand on the insights in the report, we hope that you will join us and the Afterschool Alliance for a webinar on December 1, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. EST. The webinar will be facilitated by young people from the Kentucky Student Voice Team who will talk more about their organization and its evolution, answer questions, and provide an opportunity to engage with some of the tools discussed in the report. The event is open to both adult practitioners and youth; find more information on the webinar page here.

Please contact Citizens & Scholars at civiceducation@citizensandscholars.org with any questions about the report, the toolkit, the webinar, or any other related matters.

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