Beyond brainstorming!

Facilitation tips to increase youth voice in decision-making.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development programs clubs provide a safe setting for youth to practice decision-making supported by caring adults. When youth are empowered to make decisions for themselves, youth develop skills in leadership, planning, teamwork, facilitation, conflict resolution, problem solving and much more.  Refer to a previous article by Michigan State University Extension about the benefits of involving youth in decision-making.

It may be difficult for adults to resist the temptation to decide what’s best for youth and do all of the planning for them.  When adults act in this way, they are treating youth as recipients.  Sometimes, adults consult youth to get their ideas, and then handle the rest of the planning and preparation.  When adults act in this way, they are treating youth as resources.  In order for youth to be fully engaged with adults in partnership, youth and adults must share an equal voice in the planning and an equal share of the responsibilities in implementing programs.  The following provides tips on facilitating discussions with youth in ways that will maximize youth voice.

Ground rules: Taking time to establish group-generated ground rules for participation in group discussions can help provide an environment in which youth feel comfortable speaking their mind.  Ground rules work best when they are created and agreed upon by the group members and displayed prominently throughout the meeting.  Things youth might want to include in ground rules include, “be acknowledged before speaking; give everyone a chance to voice their opinion; everyone’s ideas are important” and many other ideas as generated by youth.  

Ten-second rule: Ten seconds of silence can seem like an eternity in a group discussion. Occasionally, when a question or new idea is presented to youth, adults are tempted to jump in and offer their ideas in order to break the awkward silence. Implement a rule in mixed groups of youth and adults that adults must wait ten seconds before sharing their ideas, providing youth with an opportunity to share their ideas first. 

Sticky wall: This is a brainstorming technique that provides participants with sticky notes to capture their ideas in writing. This facilitation technique allows youth an opportunity to collect their thoughts and express them in writing, rather than thinking quickly on the spot and sharing their ideas aloud. Once youth have written each idea on a separate sticky note, they bring them to a designated space on the wall. Ask an older youth to categorize similar ideas together, and then vote to narrow down the suggestions. 

Sticky dot voting: This is a fun way of narrowing down a list of options and making a decision. This method might be used to narrow down a list created by brainstorming using a method such as a sticky wall. After a list of ideas has been generated, record the ideas on newsprint.  Then, provide youth with stickers to indicate their vote.  If there are lots of ideas, provide youth with multiple stickers to indicate the number of times they are able to vote.  Have youth affix their sticker(s) close to the ideas that they like the best and have an older youth tally the results.  A simple variation allows youth to affix more than one sticker on their favorite ideas, for example, if they are given three stickers, they can put all three on one idea that they really like, one on three separate ideas that they like equally, two on one idea and one on another, etc.  This method of voting can increase the energy level of the group by getting youth out of their seats and empowers youth to vote for the ideas that mean the most to them.

Although empowering youth to make their own decisions can extend the time it takes to accomplish goals, the benefits to youth are remarkable and far out-weigh the added time involved.  Youth that make decisions for their clubs are much more engaged in club activities, feel personally responsible for the success of the program and develop important life skills in the process. The MSU Extension can provide training in maximizing youth-adult partnerships in 4-H and community organizations.