For organizations implementing the YouthLab for the first time, a few practical steps can help you move forward in a sustainable and strategic way.
As an initial phase, identify or recruit a YouthLab Coordination – whose role entails supporting the youngsters, moderating the training sessions and liaising institutional host. From there, you can explore the different elements of the project, starting with:
- Defining the criteria for the selection of the experience experts who will be leading the training sessions (youngsters);
- Mapping and networking with justice professionals (training participants).
Finally, you should develop communication and outreach materials to explain the project to the different target audience.
Once a ‘wishlist’ of youngsters and justice professionals has been defined, it is time to approach them and introduce the project. Hopefully, you will manage to secure enough commitment from both groups. See more information on the recruitment process here.
A contract should be signed between the organization and the youngsters. The contract should lay out the responsibilities of both parties, as well as the benefits provided to youngsters. It is also important to include an Informed Consent and Release form in line with the national and international regulations on privacy and personal data protection.
A positive way to make the youngsters’ participation more meaningful and sustainable is by providing them with a YouthLab certificate. In addition, when they have participated in several exchanges and have had the opportunity to become familiar with the work of your organization, it is encouraged to invite them to join other initiatives outside of the project. Those can involve consulting on strategic issues, organizing youth consultations or participating in awareness raising activities.
CASE STUDY: YouthLab development – reconstruction of the process
The Dutch YouthLab piloted by Young in Prison (YiP) did not start with the ambition to the become what it currently is. On the contrary: ‘YouthLab’ was the name given to a one-off conference, where previously incarcerated youth presented a concept for an alternative youth prison of their own creation to a large audience. This conference generated attention and momentum, partially thanks to media coverage.
However, the media attention given to the event was not unanimously appreciated and , in fact, caused some trouble for the organization: the youth prison sector director wrote an open letter as a ‘rebuttal’ to the viewpoints presented by the youngsters.On the other hand, the chief of the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, who also attended the conference, really enjoyed the discussion with the youths. In short, the conference generated a lot of buzz – some of it positive, some of it negative. At that moment, YiP still believed that the YouthLab would be finished after the conference.
Managing the unexpected demand:
from meeting the demand towards professionalizing
After the conference, YiP received several phone calls from professionals, requesting the youths to ‘think along’ about some topics. Supported by YiP’s facilitation, the young experts accepted the offer under the condition of being compensated for the service.
They accepted many of the proposed assignments, but often did not have a good idea of where they would end up; for that reason they were always accompanied by someone from YiP. In order to better address the growing demand, YiP started training the youngsters – this was the start of the leadership program.
Trying without knowing, but: being present.
Trying and noticing: this is it!
At this point, the YouthLab suddenly had a leadership course, but it did not yet have any well-established training routines. This changed when the Public Prosecution Service asked YiP and the experience experts for a one day outing with their coordinating juvenile prosecutors. Together with some teachers, YiP turned this into a training day, and when the team realized that this could become a recurring thing, they also invited the chief of the Public Prosecution Service—after all, he was really keen on the conference. He accepted the offer – that was the birth of YouthLab in its current form.
To be more precise: when the chief of the Public Prosecution left, he mentioned to his associates: ‘We should do this more often.’ That was followed-up by an email from him requesting that the agency structurally allocated budget for the YouthLab. Thanks to that meeting, the enthusiasm of the ‘original group’, and the commitment of a prominent figure within the Public Prosecution Service, the first training routine found its way into the teacher’s curriculum.
It also became easier to convince other institutions to join after that. When the number of assignments increased, YiP was financially in a position to appoint a permanent supervisor, who could guide the experience experts the entire year through. At that moment, YouthLab had grown, almost by accident, from just an event with buzz surrounding it into a fully fledged part of the operations of YiP.