WHO LEGITIMIZES THE PROJECT?
The YouthLab exists by virtue of allies—only through their agreement can training be included in the curricula. Therefore, analysing your network of stakeholders and understanding who can help you further is essential.
Secondly, the YouthLab YouthLab also depends on sufficient inflow of young participants: these are youths who, before they joined the Youthlab, were situated in places (like juvenile detention centers) which are difficult to reach. The following types of allies can help us with that:
Inviting a (normative & institutional) heavy weight representative
It isn’t out of the question that prosecutors will be trained by a youth which they convicted—that could be cause for hesitation within the ranks of, for example, the Public Prosecution Service. The Dutch YouthLab made a lot of headway, when, at the first YouthLab gathering, the highest chief of the Public Prosecution Service played such an important role. He was impressed and truly appreciated. Afterwards, he professed an inclination to having ‘something like that’ on a structural basis. This was a crucial moment: thanks to the commitment of a ‘normative heavyweight’ all the hesitation within the organization could be overcome. At the same time however, this commitment did not mean that everything had been taken care of.
Finding our way through the organization with someone who believes in the project
Once normative commitment has been established, the search for a suitable location begins. In The Netherlands, it took one-and-a-half years before the YouthLab was housed in the training center for prosecutors and judges. It was brought there by a ‘nationwide coordinating specialist’, who was substantially responsible for the topic of youth affairs. This was not a heavyweight in the sense mentioned earlier, but someone with a ‘sick network’. We met this person for coffee multiple times, because it wasn’t clear beforehand where YouthLab would fit in. We had many meetings and try-outs, but oftentimes it was not a ‘perfect fit’. This changed when we got the idea to just organize something.
Carefully composing the selection of your first try-out
In the Netherlands there are ‘regular’ juvenile prosecutors and ‘coordinating juvenile prosecutors’. We put members of the second group and the well-connected and involved professional together in one room for their first YouthLab training. The training was enjoyable, and a real success: many of the participants still often refer back to it. Young in Prison Netherlands put a lot of (its own) money in it. The pre-selection, it turned out, was the perfect group of ambassadors to awaken the will of the entire potential target population.
Losing your specialness and making a jump into the routine-machine called bureaucracy
Looking back, the real driving force for the Dutch YouthLab came from a place we least suspected: the scheduler of the training courses for prosecutors. When the highest chief, the networker, and the influential pre-selection came together and finally found room to offer the training on a regular basis, YouthLab training was suddenly pre-scheduled 3 years in advance. Just like that, YouthLab had transformed from something ‘special’ into ‘something to be scheduled’. At the same time, the financial foundation of the YouthLab grew; it also became easier to gain the support of equity funds, as they were now signing up for something which would continue to yield visible results. To this day, the Dutch YouthLab has been scheduled 2 to 3 year in advance in the organization’s calendars. In this way, the YouthLab can also guarantee to the youth that there will be sufficient activities and assignments for them in the future.
Regaining your specialness by inviting others: what do they see
YouthLab is an event, but it is also something that has a real impact on people. That second component requires observation and language to make explicit. As soon as the YouthLab starts growing, it is prudent to find allies in the scientific community, so as to be able to put into words the impact that YouthLab has as strongly as possible.
And inviting those who want, but do not dare (yet)
The four people/roles mentioned above succeeded each other in the following sequence: through the chief, YiP NL worked its way down to the routine workings of the organization. Subsequently, we shared this story with everybody who would listen. There too we were also often greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and hesitation. For these groups we turned our regular training sessions with the Public Prosecution Service into an outing—on the condition that they actively participated in the sessions. In this way, they could experience for themselves the significance of such a training. But more importantly: they could see the commitment of a partner from another part of the judiciary chain. Very frequently, we heard the following argument repeated: “The Public Prosecution Service is doing it too!” And afterwards these people would start looking for commitment in their own organization.
Some practical steps
When organizing the training, make sure to have an online registration (with a clear deadline) in order to easily communicate with all participants. Before the training, send an email to all participants thanking them for their registration and requesting them to communicate in case of cancellation – in case you have more registration than spots, you can create a reserve list. The email should also contain the basic logistic information or online meeting room link, the main purpose of the training and sessions timeline. Depending how far apart the sessions are, a friendly reminder might also be helpful.