Young people are not a box to be ticked

Written by: Clare Armstrong, Academy Project Manager, the ALLIANCE

Academy Project Manager Clare Armstrong reflects on the lack of co-production involving young people, and looks at how we can tackle this.

It should not be a point of controversy that young people are as invested in society and our health and social care systems as adults. Nor should it be a shock that they have views, experiences and knowledge that is crucial to helping form genuinely representative and accountable institutions across society. Yet it seems that even in spaces that are aimed at addressing young people’s needs, they are conspicuously excluded from conversations about their own present and future health and wellbeing.

Indeed, this was a theme that cropped up in various guises across our first Academy planning group for the Year of Young People. The inspiring young people and organisations who attended our meeting – which aimed to help shape the Academy’s plans for 2018 – time and again articulated that decision-making spaces on national, local and individual levels were just not made available to young people, and were particularly difficult to access for young people with disabilities, long term conditions, and caring responsibilities. Moreover, on the rare occasion when they were consulted about important decisions, too often they felt that this was just a “tick box” exercise – a way of validating existing decisions without giving young people the means to change or influence them.

It is this lack of accessibility and engagement with young people that the Year of Young People hopes to address. As a national programme of events and campaigns for next year, Scottish Government and five other partner organisations hope that this initiative will “inspire our nation through its young people’s ideas, attitudes and ambitions” by focusing on five themes developed and approved by young people: culture, education, participation, health & wellbeing, equality & discrimination, and enterprise & regeneration. The programme will let young people (aged 8 – 26) take the reins and shape an agenda that tackles what they see to be the key issues in our country today.

This is a great opportunity for all organisations and groups to include young people in their work, and to genuinely coproduce with a part of our population that is too often maligned and ignored. And the beam of sunlight coming through the tunnel is that the appetite for co-design and co-production with young people is growing more and more every day – indeed, in bringing together our planning group we were flooded with people keen to get involved!

As a young person (albeit one that feels older with each new BBC News alert), I am incredibly excited for next year – but what I fear is that we revert to old models of working after 2018, and forget the lessons learned in the constant swirl of problems we are faced with every day in the media and day to day life. It would be a travesty if this were to happen.

At a time when we are more diversity conscious than ever, we need to be asking ourselves why we still accept adult-only groups making decisions about young people, when we would (rightly) cry foul if, for example, a men-only group made decisions about women. Why is it that opportunities for co-production and decision-making are too often only extended to adults? As the national Year of Young People 2018 approaches, these are questions that we need to grapple with urgently, if Scotland is to truly value and reflect the voice of lived experience – across all ages. Hopefully #YOYP2018 will mark another big step in this journey.

To find out more about the Year of Young People and get involved, go to