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Youth voice - the basics

Youth Voice. What is it, why do it, and what does it look like? This page gives an overview for anyone who’s just starting out and includes our top tips on how to do it well. 

What is it?

Youth voice and participation, ‘youth voice’ for short, is a process or activity where children and young people are:

1. Listened and responded to.

2. Actively involved in formal decision-making structures.

3. Elevated to a leadership role.


Why do it?

There are plenty of benefits that come from youth voice work. It gives young people a sense of agency, helps build skills and equips them to be next generation leaders.

It helps organisations to be more engaging in their offer. It’s supports the workforce to develop their practice. Plus, it makes you more inclusive and relevant, so puts you in a stronger position to secure funding and partnerships. It’s a fun, inspiring and developmental process.

Youth participation is also a fundamental human right. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

“Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.”


What does it look like?

Let’s start by busting some myths.

  • Youth voice doesn’t just apply to older and more confident children. It can be done across all ages and settings. What it looks like, however, will vary depending on the circumstances.
  • Youth voice isn’t just about student councils and youth steering groups.

These are just one example of a wide range of activities at your disposal. In fact, the most impactful youth voice work goes beyond a single activity and is done in lots of diverse ways.

1. Listening and responding to young people

Surveys, focus groups and interviews are a great way of gathering the opinions of children and young people to inform what you do and how you work. Perhaps you want to know if your music offer is meeting the needs of young people in your local area? Or whether the format, timings and venue of your programmes are accessible for people?

‘Co-design’ means working with children and young people to design something together. Youth Music wants the organisations we fund to co-design their music programmes with the people who will take part. One way of doing this might be to consult with young people using some specific questions before you embark on your funding application.

Listening to young people and being responsive to their needs is fundamental to being inclusive in a music session. This might involve observing how young people are engaging with an activity and adapting it to suit their needs. Or finding out about their individual learning goals (whether that’s going to a live gig, recording a pop song or making beats) and building your support around that.

When it comes to listening, remember:

  • Feedback doesn’t have to be in the form of written or verbal comments. For babies, young children or people who are non-verbal, observation is a form of ‘listening.’
  • Some people might be more comfortable communicating through music rather than a face-to-face conversation.
  • If you’re looking for honest feedback, it may be better to keep things anonymous.
  • You can also involve young people in the process itself, as co-researchers.

2. Involving young people in formal decision-making structures

Formal structures such as Trustee boards, youth panels and steering groups are mechanisms that allow children and young people to influence the work of your organisation. In England, you can be a Trustee of a charity that is a company or charitable incorporated organisation from the age of 16.

Think about other kinds of decision-making processes happening in your organisation that children and young people can be involved with. Involving them in recruitment is frequent practice in the youth sector. At Youth Music, we involve young people in our funding assessment team and decision-making panels.

3. Youth leadership

Peer mentors and trainee music leader positions are a common way of providing development opportunities for young people. Entry level employment opportunities such as internships and apprenticeships support new routes into the workforce and bring fresh ideas into your organisation.

There’s an abundance of music-related activities that young people can organise and deliver, whether it’s putting on gigs, designing marketing materials, music journalism or doing radio shows. From events management, technical set-up, presenting, fundraising, marketing and promotion, a wide range of roles exist that give young people autonomy in a leadership role.

Top tips for making it work

Some things to consider as you embark on your youth voice journey:

  • Youth voice activity can’t be tokenistic. When planning, consider the parameters and your own restrictions, so that you can genuinely act upon what you hear.
  • Always communicate back and let people know how you’ve responded to their input.
  • Consider meaningful ways to reward people’s attendance and input.
  • Whilst you can start off with small steps and develop incrementally, youth voice takes time and resource to do it well. Remember to factor this in (and allocate budget accordingly).
  • The learning and impact of youth voice work must be two-way. When planning your activity, think about what the two-way benefits will be. Keeping it creative, fun and engaging will ensure the most inspiring impact for both parties.


Want more information?

Visit our youth voice hub to access a wide range of resources that will help with your next steps.