A Listening Fund case study: Gendered Intelligence

The Listening Fund supports youth-focused organisations to develop their practice of listening to
young people and responding to what they hear. The Centre for Youth Impact was commissioned to evaluate the Fund and as part of that evaluation, case study research was conducted with six partners, offering the opportunity for an in-depth investigation of their work. The full case study report, including the methodology and all six partners can be downloaded here. This first case study focuses on Gendered Intelligence.

Gendered Intelligence

Gendered Intelligence (GI) is a national charity working to increase understandings of gender diversity and to improve the lives of anyone who is trans, gender diverse, or questioning their gender. It works directly with the trans community as well as those who have an impact on trans lives, including schools, colleges, employers and parents. GI specialises in supporting young trans people aged 8-30 through youth groups, mentoring, arts-based programmes, and residential trips. It offers young trans people safe and supportive spaces to socialise, to get information and advice,
and to explore their gender identity if they are questioning.

Overview of listening at Gendered Intelligence

Gendered Intelligence applied to the Listening Fund to implement systems to enable its youth community to raise their voice and to contribute to decision-making across the organisation. The two key components to its listening project, and how these have evolved, are explored below.

1) Youth board

GI experienced some difficult decisions in determining what the project should look like over the first year of the Listening Fund. In GI’s original application, the flagship listening activity was to recruit three young people onto its main board of trustees. However, after speaking with the young people it works with, GI came to realise that many were not keen on the idea of becoming a trustee due to the high levels of legal and financial responsibility that came alongside this, which they would have to balance with many other responsibilities and challenges in their own lives. Furthermore, through consultation with the wider staff team, GI reflected that it was important to implement listening activities that enabled the organisation to hear from a diverse range of young people, whereas the trustee project would only enable it to reach a very select group.

Through these conversations, with input from staff and young people, GI’s listening project evolved to become a separate youth board that sits alongside the main board of trustees. This enabled space for a range of young people to influence the running and delivery of GI’s services, without the responsibilities associated with full trusteeship.

GI’s youth board met for the first time in January 2020 and will convene every three months for a ‘Youth Board Day’. It is open to all young trans people, from ages 8 to 30, across the various youth groups. The activities held at each youth board will vary, but the first day involved the following:

• Introduction: An open conversation with young people about what the youth board is, where the idea came from, and what they thought its purpose should be within GI;
• Getting to know GI: A session exploring what young people already knew about the whole organisation, and where more information would be helpful. This involved making a group ‘sculpture’ of GI using arts and crafts;
• Budget breakdown: In teams, young people interpreted parts of the budget and presented their interpretations using creative methods, such as drawings or marbles and cups; and
• Reflection: young people discussed how they had found the experience of the first Youth Board Day, and they were given time to discuss this both with and without staff present.

2) Impact analysis

Prior to the Listening Fund, the collection of impact data within GI tended to be done in an ad hoc and sporadic way, using long surveys that typically garnered low response rates. The second component of GI’s listening project has been to make improvements to the way impact data is collected, in order to: a) make the process more fun and engaging for young people, and therefore reflective of GI’s youth work practice, and b) to enable GI to obtain actionable data to improve service delivery, through hearing directly from young people on areas of need and interest.

GI has simplified and scaled-down the surveys used to collect impact data. GI thought carefully about its priorities, and thus decided to shape the surveys around its three core youth work aims: to build pride, to increase resilience, and to reduce social isolation. The surveys involved young people rating themselves on each of these factors on a scale of one to five, with the option to add further commentary. The data was collected systematically on a three-month basis.

“Impact analysis is now a more enjoyable process for young people, whilst also collecting information that gets to the heart of what we want to accomplish. It enables young people to speak directly as to whether and how we are achieving our aims.” (Residentials Lead and Assistant to the Youth Service)

GI has also made improvements to the process of analysing impact data. This has involved investing in Lamplight, an online database system, and GI has assigned one staff member with primary responsibility for analysing the data across all of GI’s youth groups. This means the data is analysed and presented back to the youth work teams in a comparable and consistent manner. This then enabled the whole team to discuss the findings in quarterly youth work meetings, and to use them as the basis for developing future activities. For GI, implementing processes for data analysis is a key “behind the scenes” component of listening that should not be overlooked.

What is the key learning and impact of this work?

Developing the right mechanisms for listening takes time

GI staff were ‘ambitious’ in their original application to the Listening Fund and required additional time “to properly and deeply think through what listening could look like in our context, in a safe and sustainable way”. The Listening Fund has given the organisation the time and resource to do this deep thinking and to explore the youth board approach. GI acknowledges that it is at the beginning of a long process to improve the way the charity listens to young people, and must continue to reflect on and refine the processes that enable the youth board to have a say within GI.

“It’s easy to say, ‘let’s set up a youth board!’ but there’s lots of considerations to ensure this is done meaningfully. We may have underestimated this, but it’s been a real learning process that we’re going to keep working on until we get it right.” (Youth Service Lead)

Making listening valuable to young people

For GI, like most of the partners in the Listening Fund, the process of listening must offer tangible benefits to young people as well as to the organisation. GI has found it is advantageous to gather identifiable impact data (i.e. young people’s responses are not anonymous unless they opt for this specifically). This has enabled GI to capture the individual journeys of each young person. As explained by one member of staff, “it’s our job as youth workers to support young people to look back on different points of their journey, to learn from the harder times or to see how far they’ve come”. By improving the systematic process for collecting data, GI has obtained a clear picture of young people’s journeys and has used the database system to present this back to them in a visual way. This starts a conversation with young people, to reflect on whether the data accurately represents their experience, by what it was affected, and how it could be different.

GI has also encouraged the youth group leaders to use creative techniques to gather the impact data, so that the process is embedded within the existing activities, rather than feeling like a distraction or an ‘add-on’. This has involved, for example, holding a large group discussion focussed on breaking down what the key concepts (such as resilience) really mean, or encouraging young people to create artwork to represent their feelings. As suggested by the CEO: “We’re learning that impact analysis doesn’t have to feel like a dry, evaluative process”

Increasing reach and accessibility

In GI’s original proposal to recruit young trustees, staff expressed concerns that those who put themselves forward would likely be young people who are the most confident, and potentially who have experience sitting on boards at school or university. There are also legal requirements in England that mean trustee positions can only be open to young people over the age of 16. On reflection, GI staff felt it was important that all young people are given equal opportunities to take
part in listening, and in particular, to encourage engagement from those who would be less likely to put themselves forwards. Accordingly, the youth board has been effective for enabling a wider range of young people to participate, and to do so in a relatively informal manner, which is enabling for young people who have less confidence. GI has taken additional steps to ensure the board is accessible, such as offering an adapted, simplified version of the board papers as these can be highly dense and technical. This has reduced the likelihood that young people feel intimidated by the materials and has increased the transparency of how decisions get made.

What changes have been made as a result of listening?

GI’s focus has been working out the best processes to enable young people to engage with the youth board effectively. For most of the young people, sitting on a youth board has been a “very new experience” and it will take time for both the young people and the staff to become comfortable and confident with the set up and to use it to the maximum potential.

“At our first Youth Board Day the young people definitely felt confused, and maybe even overwhelmed at times. This is part of the process, working through areas of complexity so young people can have a full understanding of the context, and therefore give their input in a meaningful way.” (Youth Service Lead)

For example, for many of the young people, the main thing they knew about GI is that they run youth groups and the annual residentials. For some, it came as a “massive realisation” to recognise the many other components of GI’s work, such as training and advocacy work. For young people to genuinely contribute to decision-making within GI, first they needed to be supported to think comprehensively about all the components that make up the organisation.

During the first youth board day, young people started to explore and ask questions about GI’s funding streams. For example, the group identified a funder who they felt it was inappropriate to accept a grant from because they were unhappy with some other components of its work. Staff recognised this as a valid concern but wanted to ensure that the young people understood the potential implications of what it would mean to no longer accept the funding. It is only by building this understanding of the broader context that GI can start to involve young people at the board level in a full and empowered manner. Through these processes, young people “will naturally move to a point of being able to make decisions at increasingly higher levels of the organisation”.

“The youth board has been interesting to find out about how things at GI actually work, things like financing and the budget. At first, I thought ‘wow you have a lot more money than I thought’, but then I started to realise how much money goes into the running an organisation like this.” (Youth board member)

There are various examples where GI has already implemented changes at the service-level based directly on what it has heard from young people, for instance:

• Identifying areas of need: The data gathered through GI’s impact analysis process has enabled staff to identify where additional support is required, and to shape services accordingly. Last year, the data allowed GI to recognise that resilience was especially low among some demographics of young people, and it implemented activities to address this.
• Developing youth-led activities: GI has a process to enable all young people to have a say in its youth work delivery. This starts with the young people brainstorming ideas for activities and trips, and staff research these ideas to see if they are practically and financially viable. The staff then return with a list of viable options and collaboratively develop a plan and timescale with young people. ‘Temperature testing’ is used to check all are happy with the agreed plan, and GI continue discussing and developing the plan until everyone is satisfied.
• Creating trans-inclusive guides and resources: Through formal and informal consultation with young people, GI use their views and experiences as the basis to develop guidance documents to help other organisations to develop trans-inclusive spaces, such as schools and other youth clubs. These are created by staff with direct input from young people.

Ongoing challenges and next steps

Making listening diverse and representative

As an organisation with a diverse reach – in terms of age, race, and gender identity – it is important that this is reflected in GI’s listening practice. It is already apparent to GI that it has had disproportionately lower engagement in the youth board from young people under the age of 18 and young people of colour. Going forwards, GI plans to do targeted outreach to understand why some groups feel less motivated to take part, to understand how it can redress this balance. This will start with asking open questions within GI’s Under-12s group and the BAME group, to ask what doesn’t appeal and what might make them more likely to attend.

Connecting the youth board and the main board of trustees

After each Youth Board Day, two young people will also attend the quarterly meeting of GI’s main board of trustees, to represent the youth voice and to report back on the experience to others. This is intended to make sure GI’s two boards stay connected, and GI is still working out the logistics to ensure this is effective. For instance, GI staff are deciding whether the same two young people should attend the board of trustees each time (to build up their experience and
understanding) or whether the young people should rotate (so that more have the opportunity to experience the main board meeting). Additionally, GI is planning activities where the main board of trustees will “meet with each other and the young people within the youth space”, to avoid a power dynamic where young people “are always expected to go to them”.

Fostering critical feedback

GI predominantly receives positive feedback from young people. On the one hand, this is a positive reflection that young people highly value GI as an organisation: however, GI want to work towards obtaining more critical feedback. The reason for this trend is, in part, because young trans people often report feeling misunderstood and unaccepted in many areas of their lives, whereas at GI they enter a fully accepting and trans-inclusive space. As suggested by one youth worker: “It is difficult to solicit critical feedback because many young people are just grateful that we exist and see it as a luxury to be here.”

GI is undergoing a long-term process, which will be affected by broader societal trends, to support young trans people to feel entitled to inclusive spaces of support. Doing so will increase the likelihood that young people will offer critical feedback and will enable another level of depth and complexity in their listening. As described by one youth worker, “young people need to be supported to feel they deserve this space in order to tell us how we can make it better.”

Image of young woman with earphones