Our approach to youth participation

Our approach

Young people who face barriers are at the heart of our mission and as the well-known phrase tells us – ‘nothing about us, without us’. In some ways it is as simple as this. We cannot work to find effective solutions for young people’s futures without young people being part of the process – not if we want to genuinely change things. 

This is why Youth Futures has championed youth participation since its creation. Today, we collaborate with young people with lived experience of facing barriers to employment in a variety of ways to help us to achieve our mission to change the youth employment system. 

This page will give you an overview of how we approach youth participation, and highlights just some of the infrastructure we have built to enable it to be delivered with impact

If you would like to know more about our youth participation approach, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing [email protected].

Our values and principles

As an organisation, we adhere to the following principles in our approach to engaging young people:

  • Youth participation is threaded throughout our outputs and operational functions as far as is possible and appropriate.
  • Meaningful engagement with a diversity of young people with lived experience is integral to effectively fulfilling our mission.
  • No youth involvement is tokenistic and young people will be provided clear support and development opportunities through their engagement with us.
  • Just like our approach to funding and building the evidence base, we always want to learn from what works in meaningfully engaging young people and implementing best practice to ensure their contributions deliver impact.
  • We will live by the standards we expect of others. If we don’t ensure that young people’s voices and participation are a key facet of our identity, we cannot expect others to do the same.

Improving the delivery of our mission

We believe that youth participation is one of a few important ways in which we will achieve our mission (the logic being that we think that our work and its impact would be significantly poorer without young people’s lived experience and strategic leadership along the way). 

Youth participation alone isn’t going to change the system, and neither are we. Instead, working together with young people from marginalised backgrounds (alongside many other important stakeholders) gives us a unique opportunity to understand the issues we want to tackle, by hearing from those who experience it first-hand, and by them being able to shape what we do and how we do it.

The Youth Participation Wheel

At Youth Futures, we are focused on delivering meaningful, high-quality participation. This means always striving to identify areas of our work and ways in which youth participation can be built into activity and, importantly, have impact. It also means being clear and transparent about the form of youth participation we choose to adopt in pursuing an activity, and tracking and measuring its impact closely. 

Where possible, we apply our “what works” ethos to our youth participation activity by measuring the level of youth participation across projects, the impact that young people have on those and the development of young people’s skills and youth employment expertise over their engagement. We are developing a methodology for tracking impact of young people’s participation on 1) themselves, 2) our organisational activity and decisions, and 3) on the system itself.

We currently measure and review participation by referring to our Wheel of Participation, inspired by Roger Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation. Instead of following a hierarchy of different types of youth participation, we think that different activities require different levels of youth participation – each of which may be appropriate depending on the context of the activity. It is important to be ambitious, but realistic, when designing youth participation in projects. For this reason, we have adapted Hart’s ladder into a cyclical “menu” of options, allowing employees to consider and pick the approach that best meets the needs of the activity being undertaken. 

Youth-initiated,adults sharedecision-making Assigned butinformed Consulted andinformed Adult-initiated, youthshare decision-making Youth-initiatedand directed Youth initiate projectsand sharedecision-makingauthority or managementwith adults Youth participation ismeaningful, but youngpeople not involved inplanning Youth consultedseriously in thedesign ofactivities Adults initiate projects,but shareddecision-making authority ormanagement with youth Youth initiate andcarry out projects– adults mayassist but do notdirect or manage Defining youthparticipation


No forms of tokenism, decoration or manipulation are listed on the wheel, as we know we should never be aspiring or delivering participation of this type.

1 Roger Hart, Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship, https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/childrens_participation.pdf,  1992

Paying Young People

We believe that to truly deliver meaningful youth participation that can influence the employment landscape and is truly inclusive, it is essential to remunerate every young person who engages with us (if you have the financial means to do so – which we do). 

As a Living Wage employer, we pay young people at the London Living Wage rate for any contributions of time given to us. 

If you would like more information about how we pay young people, do get in touch.

Our Youth Participation Architecture

We have established structures to enable high-quality youth participation to be embedded across our organisation. The architecture below are some of the main structures through which we channel our activity, and that enable youth participation to be aligned with our business plan. 

  • Young members of our Board of Directors
  • Young members of our Grants Committee
  • Future Voices Group (FVG) and alumni members
Skip to content