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Connecting Young People and Central Government
Craig Neilson, 18 Sep 07
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If you're young and you want central government to know what's on your mind, your options can seem fairly limited.

But Ben Irving has another idea. This year he began an ambitious project to create a new communication channel between young people and central government in New Zealand in a peaceful and meaningful manner, a dream which was realised by Youth3 as three events in August.

The three events followed a carefully designed process of gathering information and faithfully delivering it to government and non-government organisations. First, two YouthConnect events gathered all the young people they could muster in the same room, split in to smaller groups and went through a series of questions. What does New Zealand mean to you? What could you do without in New Zealand? What is your dream for New Zealand? How can we get there? This fundamental model for the project is called appreciative inquiry.

In addition to appreciative inquiry, YouthConnect events featured live music, big screen video, hyped-up MCs and an exciting program designed for young people by young people. But the purpose was always clear: to "synthesise" quality information to take to GovConnect.

Aimed at government departments and NGOs, the purpose of GovConnect was to communicate the findings of YouthConnect. The team hopes this will establish an effective channel for youth engagement and participation in key decision making in the future.

Finally, a project named "100 Dreams" worked alongside the YouthConnect and GovConnect events to collect a qualitative picture of the past, present and future visions of 100 young New Zealanders. The project is currently being re-imagined as the "four million dreams" project (New Zealand has a population of four million people).

We went along to YouthConnect Auckland and reflected with Ben as soon as he was finished resting.

Worldchanging: So how did it go?

Ben Irving: We found that once we got people in the room and talking to each other it was a huge success. It was really good to see people come from "I'm not really sure how this is going to work" to "I can see how this is going to work and I can see what kind of change I can make because of it."

WC: Who was at GovConnect?

BI: A mixture - half government organisations and half NGO type community organisations. Anybody from the NZ Blood Service to the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Youth Affairs... people from Teacher's College, from SPARC , SmokeFree NZ... quite a mixture!

WC: What did you take to them?

BI: We took a key-point summary from the YouthConnect day. We took the synthesised information and basically talked to all of the delegates about the project. In the morning we looked at this and talked about the event overall - as well as how much we've learned and what we're going to do next. They found that really encouraging. We went through the real nitty-gritty of what information we'd been able to receive from the young people then in the afternoon we went through an appreciative inquiry process where the delegates in the room interview each other about their dreams for New Zealand in a similar way to which the youth were interviewed. Following that we went through what the next steps could look like, and how there could be a better collaborative space with young people and government organisations.

WC: What are the next steps and what could they look like?

BI: I think they're quite individual. One of the things that we always knew is that everyone will always have an agenda of how things should go based on the organisation they're attached to. Our collaboration space was about trying to acknowledge that stuff and actually working collaboratively, figuring out what different people need to achieve so that they can keep their jobs but also looking at where the common ground is and how they could work together. You know, one organisation's campaign being a vehicle for another. Using a link between, say, the Blood Foundation and the Anti-smoking campaign. Link them together somehow! Look at how that promotes engagement between people. But two organisations don't have to go in to a youth market strategy together - it could be that you give blood and while you're giving blood you watch a movie about quitting smoking - it's any number of abstract initiatives that could be a really positive follow-through.

WC: Do you think some of those connections happened?

BI: Definitely. We got feedback that some really neat things happened, we had some people from one of the departments come to us afterwards and ask what our role could be in helping them connect with young people we're following through on how that might happen.

Image: The Beehive, Parliament building in Wellington flickr/trayflow

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