The Centre for Youth Impact is undertaking an evaluation of the Listening Fund, seeking to understand the impact of providing dedicated funding for a range of youth organisations to develop their listening practices. It is hoped that the experience of the 22 funded partners will influence the wider youth sector, and its funders, to prioritise listening as a key function to develop and support all youth organisations. By ‘listening’, we are referring to an active process where young people are given tangible opportunities to have a say and an influence in shaping youth provision, or in wider policies and practices impacting their role in society.
One year into the project, the evaluation team have produced a report exploring the key findings so far. Below we introduce some of the key themes from the report:
Acting on listening
It is essential that organisations working with young people are not carrying out listening for listening’s sake. Listening activities should be driving changes in policy and practice, leading to direct improvements for young people accessing the provision. The report sets out a range of examples where listening has led to organisational changes over the first year. For example, some partners have been encouraged through their listening activity to review their use of language, to ensure it is inclusive to a broad range of experiences, and to remove terminology that could risk making certain young people feel ‘othered’.
Overall, there has been much variation in the extent that partners have felt they have taken action on their listening in the first year, and whether these changes have been taking place at a ‘service’ level (influencing day-to-day practice), or at the ‘strategic’ level (to influence strategic plans and goals).
Take the time to define what ‘listening’ means to you
Partners emphasised that they each operate in unique circumstances, meaning they require time and space to explore how to best listen to the voices of their young people, responding and adapting to their specific context. A key factor that has enabled progress for many has been taking the time to define what ‘listening’ means to them, particularly as it is often perceived as an abstract and complex concept. Doing this alongside their team has helped to develop buy-in across the staff, and has reduced the extent that listening activities are seen as a burden.
A systematic and embedded approach
Although most of the partners already had experience and expertise in engaging youth voice, many felt that the Fund has been particularly beneficial for building more systematic approaches to listening. Where some partners felt they previously had elements of listening “scattered throughout the organisation”, the grant has enabled it to become a ‘norm’ in day-to-day operations, embedded in every stage of a project cycle. The number of partners who report that they are undertaking some form of listening with young people on at least a weekly basis has already increased by 20 percentage points, and we are expecting this to rise further throughout the second year of the Fund.
Qualitative vs. quantitative methods
The partners have been engaged in a large variety of forms of listening, some of the most popular including: focus groups (87%), surveys (87%), and ongoing listening within practice (90%). Generally, partners strongly value the ‘conversational’ aspects associated with qualitative listening approaches (such as a focus group), as they allow for building a rich understanding of young people’s thoughts and ideas, and provide them with opportunities to build social skills.
Technological, quantitative methods (such as a digital feedback tool), on the other hand, are valued for having a wide geographical reach and enabling statistical analysis. However, there also remains some scepticism, with some partners feeling that they lack the expertise to know how to invest in digital technologies, and others emphasising that “hard data cannot reflect young people’s lived experience”.
In light of these varied perspectives, we have been pleased to find that some partners are actively adopting a ‘blended’ approach, to incorporate benefits from both ‘types’ of listening activity.
We are excited to continue developing and sharing our learning from the Listening Fund evaluation throughout the second year, to support the partners and to inform wider meaningful practice when responding to young people.
For more information about these findings and our methodology, please download the full report, and feel free to get in touch with the evaluation team with any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).