Empowering young people through co-creation

July 2015
News Item
Mark Vincent
10th July 2015

At Diva, we’ve got a long history of creating resources for young people. Each time we do, we ask the same questions:

‘How can this resource empower young people?’

‘How can we be sure it will appeal to them?’

A while ago, the assumption was that if your design looked like a graffiti wall, all grungy and distorted, young people would love it. But times change. The teenage rebel’s weapon of choice has changed from a paint can to Photoshop.

So we don’t assume. We research. Aside from simply presenting designs for a thumbs up or down, this process provides an opportunity to empower young people before the resource is even finished. By exploring further than design into content – the approach, the messages – we can be surer that young people will use and be empowered by the resource we create.

When we took this approach while designing a sex and relationships website for young people, the results were fantastic. We brought the consultation to them, on their terms, by conducting a large part of the process via Facebook. This was a place they felt confident in communicating – far from the classroom setting of traditional focus groups. From the safety of their computers, people were less afraid to give their opinions, especially on a sensitive subject like sex, and were no longer intimidated by the loudest voice in the room.

Thanks to the immediate feedback, we were able to respond quickly, giving rise to the next level of consultation: co-creation. At each stage of development, the young people were able to present their suggestions, not just their reactions.

It’s an unfortunately rare thing for young people to feel like their opinion matters, and that it will be taken seriously by decision makers. Voting-led reality television holds the tantalising possibility of choice, but the propositions are usually skewed in the production process, and the opportunity to choose is often limited to A or B.

We were able to use co-creation as an empowering process, as a statement of intent for the resource being created. This meant that when the resource was finished, the young people knew that they’d genuinely had a part in building it. So they championed it, proudly showing off the website to their friends, defending it from criticism, and taking an interest in the project long after its launch.

For the best way to get the most out of your consultations with young people:

Take every suggestion seriously

Even if someone suggests a bad idea, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Go through the process of thinking through the benefits and limitations of an idea, including all the considerations such as budget and technical issues, so a young person becomes part of the decision to discard ideas which aren’t productive.

Present suggestions

It’s always a challenge to build something from the ground up, and it can be overwhelming for young people to do. They may not have thought of the possibilities your expertise could bring, and it allows you to steer the project without patronising.

Take votes

Avoid design by committee by putting conflicting ideas to a transparent vote – preference lists often work better than ‘first-past-the-post’ here.


This is especially important when discussing sensitive issues. Make sure you’ve got a robust social media policy in place when embarking on any prolonged online consultation with young people.

By Mark Vincent