There seems to be an emerging case that some challenges of engaging with young people are universal, across all types of engagement, from one-​to-​one working up to national policy. As unlikely as this seems our tentative analysis of our first activity exploring public sector engagement with young people seems to be pointing in this direction.

Leapfrog is running 5 major projects throughout its 3 year duration. The first of these, led by Lancaster University is looking at the challenges of engaging with young people. We are loosely defining young people as teenagers and younger with the partners we are collaborating with having their own focus within this age range. The first event for this 8 month project gathered together a select but wide spectrum of our public sector partners from national government policy level who commission a great deal of engagement activity to youth workers at the engagement ‘coal face’ day to day.

Our part­ners see work­ing pro­duc­tively with young peo­ple as crit­i­cally impor­tant and very reward­ing, highlighting some excel­lent and cre­ative engage­ment. However universal chal­lenges persist around com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­la­tion between gov­ern­ment sys­tems and young people when it comes to deliv­er­ing real and rel­e­vant out­comes to the beneficiaries involved. We talk more about this below. It was this strate­gic need that moti­vated us to make this the focus of our first major project.

One of the sur­pris­ing things to emerge from the facil­i­tated meet­ing was the cen­tral impor­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion played in the chal­lenges facing all of our partners. This was definitely not the case of pub­lic sec­tor work­ers look­ing for ways to ‘con­sult at’ young peo­ple. Rather there was a strong feel­ing from Pol­icy, to Ser­vices (like libraries, health or green space) to youth work­ers that the issue was bidirectional trans­la­tion between the needs communicated by young peo­ple and the response from the pub­lic sector.

In particular there was an issue of translation between these groups. How can information (stories, data, drawings, plans or young people’s proposals) could be communicated in a way that had value for the recipients? All partners raised the challenge of translating this engagement into a form that could contribute to an evidenced based approach adopted by the public sector. For example, how could stories be seen as contributing to policy decisions in a rigorous defendable way? Similarly how can plans and proposals that sometimes might take many years to come into fruition be communicated in a manner meaningful to young people and how could their (vital) contribution be recognised and communicated when they had unrealistic expectations for how quickly there would be tangible change?

These and other issues will form the heart of our major project in this area. Our aim is to work directly with a small number of partners but for this to be a test-​bed to create a range of resources that will help all our partners and a wide range of others who work with young people to do so in a more mutually productive manner.