Youth participation and citizenship: hearing young people’s voices in North Ayrshire

2018 is the year of young people in Scotland. The idea is to inspire Scotland through its young people, celebrating their achievements, valuing their contribution to communities and creating new opportunities for them to take the lead.

Research published by the Scottish Government in 2018, Young people’s participation in decision making in Scotland: attitudes and perceptions showed that while many thought “adults” were good at listening to their views, many other barriers to having their views and opinions heard existed for young people. One of the main challenges was a feeling that young people’s views are discarded because “‘it doesn’t fit with what they (adults) want to hear”.

Hearing young people’s voices

The North Ayrshire Youth Participation and Citizenship strategy is a “unique and transferable” youth-friendly children’s rights engagement process, which informs local policy, corporate priorities and strengthens the voices of young people in local communities.

The framework “values and respects” youth participation as fundamental in the ongoing work to enable all aspects of community life to prosper. The programme of youth engagement undertaken at North Ayrshire saw them awarded a COSLA Gold award in a ceremony at the end of 2017.

The Youth Participation and Citizenship strategy sets out how young people across North Ayrshire can play an active role in their schools and communities. The framework encourages and supports the engagement and participation of young people across a range of areas including:

  • YouthBank YouthBank Scotland is a grant making and empowerment initiative run by young people for young people. It builds on young people’s skills and experiences to enable them to give cash for action, funding young people’s ideas for the benefit of the wider community.
  • Participatory budgeting initiatives  where young people can help to decide on funding applications for local projects.
  • Local participation initiatives – including Youth Forums, Pupil Councils, North Ayrshire Youth Council, Youth Groups, Eco Committees, Sports Leadership and Peer Education schemes.
  • National participation initiatives  the Scottish Youth Parliament, British Youth Council and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) National Youth Council.

In December 2017, North Ayrshire launched its Year of Young People 2018 plan. Activities include ‘Joint Cabinet Live’ which will bring together young people from all over North Ayrshire via a live video link, to interact with the Council’s Cabinet Members on the issues faced by young people living in the area.

Co-production and giving young people a choice

There is a strong focus on co-production, facilitating decisions to be made with, not to young people. There is also an understanding that engaging young people in all aspects of community life, both at a social and an administrative level can have positive consequences for the whole community, not just for the young people who participate.

The council engages with young people to ensure that they know their voices are heard and that council policy reflects their needs and aspirations for the future. It builds the skills and confidence of young people who have the opportunity to participate and can strengthen community engagement and cohesion as more people become involved.

As part of the North Ayrshire participatory budgeting initiative, funding was allocated to youth projects across North Ayrshire, and young people given the opportunity to vote for where they thought the money should be spent. Each young Scot in North Ayrshire, was able to vote for three projects they thought would most benefit from receiving funding (projects varied depending on which North Ayrshire locality they lived in, but were all organised either by or for the benefit of young people in the region). They were able to vote in school, as well as in colleges, local youth clubs, or from home using their Young Scot card number to go online and register their choices. The results were announced on 9 February 2018 and saw funding allocated according to the votes of young people, with almost 7000 young people taking part, almost 50% of those eligible.

Award winning approach

In 2017, the North Ayrshire youth services team were awarded the COSLA gold award for their efforts. The award recognised the work of  the Youth Services team in creating a culture of participation, which allows young people to have a real impact in shaping the services the Council delivers. For example, the Council operates a joint Youth Cabinet, which allows young people to work alongside Elected Members and be directly involved in the decision-making process.

North Ayrshire’s engagement approach has been seen as a blueprint for engagement across the community within towns and cities across Scotland. Three months into the “Year of Young People”, other local authorities are being encouraged to follow suit and rethink how they engage and use the voices and opinions of young people within their communities to support inclusive decision making.

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How to become a more effective coach

Teacher talking with student

Coaching can be described as the use of positive support, feedback and advice to help improve personal effectiveness.

Its use within the work environment is not a new concept.  Indeed, according to the CIPD, 9 out of 10 organisations already use coaching by line managers, and 2 out of 3 use external coaches.

However, despite its prevalence, there is very little research evidence about what makes a ‘good’ coach and whether coaching actually works.

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) are among those working to address this.  In August, they published a report which explored the factors leading to coaching success, from both the coach and the coachee perspective.  They also examined the nature of an effective coaching relationship and set out practical advice for organisations on how to improve coaching elements of everyday work.

The key to success

They found that, according to coachees, the most important characteristics of a coach were:

  1. Communicates clearly (including the ‘ability to listen’, ‘ask good questions’ and being ‘non-directive’)
  2. Displays emotional intelligence (e.g. ‘presence’, ‘emotionally involved’, ‘awareness’, ‘connection’, ‘sensitive’, ‘empowering’, and ‘authentic’)
  3. Has experience within the coachee’s industry
  4. Is challenging but supportive
  5. Displays acceptance of the coachee

In the context of achieving successful outcomes from coaching specifically, coachees felt that successful coaches:

  1. Displayed acceptance of the coachee
  2. Were calm
  3. Displayed self-confidence
  4. Were organised
  5. Had experience within their industry

The characteristic ‘has experience within my industry’ was of particular interest.  Whether or not coaches need experience of the industry in which their coachee works is a point of contention between different coaching researchers and practitioners.  Based on this research, the IES suggest that industry experience may help to improve coach credibility, but also note that who coaches are has importance to coachees, not just what they do”.

They conclude that “the key to effective coaching lies within the coachee having respect for the coach’s ability. A coachee can also derive comfort from the coach’s experience in dealing with situations, and in the coach’s confidence and manner”.

While the characteristics perceived as important by coach and coachee were broadly similar, it was noted that coaches being organised, calm and self-confident was considered very important to coachees – much more so than to the coaches themselves.

In terms of the coaching relationship, the coach having ‘similar values’ was considered the key to success.   It is thought that such shared values may promote the sense of connection between the coach and coachee.  The coach being the same gender, age or having a similar personality was less important to the development of a successful coaching relationship.

Addressing the barriers

The majority of coachees felt that their coaching was effective.  However, there is clearly room for improvement – around 1 in 10 people felt that their coaching was of limited or no effect at allPrevious research by the IES has also shown that as many as 84% of coachees have faced barriers to their coaching experience.  These include:

  1. Unclear goals
  2. Emotions getting in the way
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Unsupportive boss
  5. Defensiveness

Coachees also faced difficulties with:

  • Their own readiness and engagement
  • The coaching model used
  • Organisational culture/boss
  • Coaches skills or manner
  • External events
  • The coaching relationship

Awareness of the barriers commonly experienced by coachees and the factors coachees perceive as contributing towards their success is a useful first step towards developing and adopting effective coaching practices.

Improving coaching practice

According to the IES, their research on coaching is a conscious attempt to “shift away from ‘guru’- led coaching practices to research-informed and evidence-based practices”.  Based on their research to date, they offer the following advice for coaches and line managers:

  • Not to worry about having less experience than coachees – that the coachee having respect for your ability is more important
  • Weave reflection into everyday coaching practice after each session/encounter – consider how to best help your coachee, how your coaching made a difference, and how your coaching compares to that of others
  • Obtain feedback from your coachee about what you did that made the coaching successful (or unsuccessful) for them, and ask them to contribute to collective feedback mechanisms such as evaluation surveys

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our briefing on coaching and mentoring.

Digital leadership: how should digital be represented at board level?

DARPA_Big_DataBy Sarah Vick, Managing Director, Reading Room

How can leaders ensure digital is a strategic strength? In a Reading Room roundtable event, we discussed the shift from ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital and the challenges this poses.

Being at the forefront of digital is central to operations, corporate strategy, customer experience and communications. But should this responsibility sit under the remit of a traditional board-level director, in the form of a Chief Digital Officer? Or should every senior executive be digitally savvy? In both cases, what does the board need to know and do to ensure that digital is a strategic strength of the business?

From ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital

In our roundtable event we discussed the shift from ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital and the challenges this poses for both boards and people working in digital roles within organisations.

We concluded that either digital changes you as an organisation or you choose to actively manage your digital transformation. Those organisations that make a decision to manage their transformation and learn from doing so are more likely to be successful in the future. This takes bravery; the people on boards are no longer the experts. If they are brave enough to admit that they need to learn in order to change,  that’s the best first step to take.

The rate of change that digital technology has brought about means boards are being challenged to make ever faster decisions, and to reconsider the benefit of long-term planning. Is it really possible to plan five years in advance? Won’t the world as we know it have completely changed again in that time frame? Boards operating in highly regulated or governance-heavy environments have additional hurdles to jump in a fast-paced environment.

Experimentation in order to build a business case for change

It was clear in our discussions that boards and directors needed to be able to make decisions based on business cases that explained the impact digital initiatives would have on an organisation.

Often these business cases will propose an initial spend in order to test a certain proposition. However being awarded budget (even minimal) to test and experiment is often difficult to achieve. At Reading Room, we have found that organisations who are willing to test ideas out, find it easier to innovate and, as a result, are often ahead of their competitors or the first to market.

Directors need to understand that organisations have to change and that digital is a key aspect in bringing about change. At the same time, having an understanding of the benefits of testing ideas out in order to make longer term strategic decisions is an important skill to have at board level and something organisations should advocate.

Becoming a joined up digital organisation

‘Digital’ people within an organisation are often those who are willing to shine a torch on problem areas. They are both the disrupters and the teachers; causing those around them to love them and be afraid of them in equal measure.

One area where the torch gets shined is on the myriad of internal systems that aren’t joined up and don’t allow data to flow from one to another. This topic is often raised at board level, but because the projects associated with joining systems up often do not result in immediate results or a difference in the front-end user experience, they risk getting passed over for ‘shinier’ activities.

It is important that people reporting into boards are able to demonstrate the efficiencies that can be made from allowing systems to talk to each other. Again, being able to undertake proof of concept or short-run experimental projects can often help to build a business case.

Digital knowledge can inform strategic planning

Not all board positions are occupied by digitally savvy people, yet the board is expected to make decisions in a world that is changing faster and faster because of the impact of digital. There is a need for more education at board level to help organisations to make better strategic decisions in relation to digital. Another tip is to avoid board discussions where the board gets pulled into the detail of plans, which is not a good use of their time.

Boards need to be strategic and hold the vision for the future of the organisation. They need to have a holistic approach and to understand how core areas such as data and content fit into their overall vision. Having a common understanding and a clear vision for how digital fits into the organisational strategy is a place where boards should strive to get to.

Do we need Chief Digital Officers?

In our discussions we concluded that at this point in time it was useful to have someone who has a good understanding of the impact and potential of digital and could champion this at board level. They would often be the person who the people delivering initiatives would have an ongoing discussion with outside of the boardroom. They might also be the person to allay fears and drive change within an organisation.

Digital initiatives often result in wide and deep structural and/or cultural changes. Having someone at the helm to help navigate these changes can be hugely beneficial. They also help to avoid people blaming ‘IT’ or ‘digital’ if things go wrong or there are teething problems.

We also discussed the premise that having a Chief Digital Officer would probably be a passing phase and that as the wider board became more digitally savvy and digital was more integrated into every part of an organisation, the role would evolve or no longer be required.

One red flag raised on the topic of Chief Digital Officers is that having a single person at board level responsible for digital does run the risk of them becoming the scapegoat if things go wrong. There is a risk that their appointment can let everyone else off the hook. If we are to argue that digital touches all aspects of business then surely the board as a whole needs to be accountable?

Over the years, some IT departments have operated at arms-length from the organisations they serve. Many have found it’s easier to say no rather than move forward. We do not want this to become the fate of the digital department, whether the organisation is operating in the private sector or the public sector.


Reading Room is is a digital consultancy that identifies opportunities, creates experiences and builds systems to help clients benefit from technological change. It joined the Idox group of companies in 2015.

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How does leadership contribute to inclusive growth?

Image by Rebecca Riley, snapshot of graphic recording by siiritaimla

Image by Rebecca Riley, snapshot of graphic recording by siiritaimla

By Rebecca Riley

‘Local leadership for inclusive growth’ was the theme of the 11th Annual meeting of the OECD LEED Forum, aimed at bringing national leaders, policy makers and practitioners together to discuss how inclusive growth can be built from the ground up. It was a rare opportunity to see international projects tackling similar issues in local economic development and share knowledge and good practice. It was great to see so many of our own members such as @jrf_uk @ukces @neweconomymcr and @CentreforCities playing key roles in the thinking behind this event.

It was appropriate that it was held in Manchester, given that the city is undergoing something of a transformation in its future, with devolution deals, transfer of powers and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ agenda. We met in the amazing neo-gothic Town Hall, with tiled floors littered with worker bees, symbolising the Mancunian’s hard work during the industrial revolution (knowledge pulled from my long distant school days, to the interest of the Swedish representative I was talking to). This symbol of industry, depicting Manchester as a hive of activity and having a leading role in mass production, seemed an apt backdrop to what was a packed agenda. This agenda and format led to some key themes and ideas which sprung up across the two days.

Growth through people

At the centre of the discussion was the idea that people make places what they are. Panel reflections and questions highlighted the futility of building infrastructure that won’t be used and the importance of understanding the ‘consumers of place’ when developing. How can we create a demand led system?

Key to this was a thread asking how can you attract anchor institutions, to be part of the fabric of place, attract workers, provide employment or add to the cultural assets. Recent work published by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies working with Preston City Council has looked at the role of anchor institutions and how they can maximise their local impact.

Places need to take control of these relationships and their own destinies. This was echoed by the first round of panelists, Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester; Roger Mogert, Stockholm; Jurgen Bruns-Berentelg, Hamburg; and Bob Van Der Zande, the Netherlands. They all spoke of engaging local people, businesses and visitors in their plans; competition at a place level with neighbours; engaing and getting the most out of national agendas; and being purposeful in their objectives.

Employment and skills

Given the monument to the Victorians which we were meeting in, it was inevitable that parallels would be drawn between the innovation of the Victorians and job creation – but how inclusive was that growth and what can we learn from their mistakes?

A major issue facing many of the projects showcased, was unemployment (especially amount the young) and solutions were very locally based, addressing very local issues. This tailoring of programmes and projects seemed to be the greatest factor in their success, and was in itself a powerful message for devolving powers and resources locally. However there were some lessons which could be applied across geographies, (echoed in the UKCES report Growth through People):

  • Understanding the local needs and matching employers to people
  • Appreciate the value and recognise benefits of vocational routes; earning and learning should be the gold standard
  • Employers should lead on skills, governments should enable them
  • Education organisations and employers should be better connected
  • Success is more than educational attainment.

There was, however, a lack of discussion about technology driven growth, and what the future of work will hold. The world is facing its next industrial revolution, whole new skills sets and industrial structures are now emerging and old skills are being replaced by technology.

I couldn’t help but think that the discussion would have benefitted from an exploration of the concept that “The idea of a single education, followed by a single career, finishing with a single pension, is over” and places should be embracing this fluidity of work and portfolio employment through their strategic and infrastructure planning.

Hollowing of skills and middle level roles

The work presented on ‘hollowing out’ was met with nods from across the room. This process where jobs in middle ‘transition’ roles are lost, which span the gap between low skill and high skill jobs, has been ongoing for decades however it’s now starting to really bite. Loss of jobs such as skilled trades, secretarial and administrative jobs and skilled manufacturing jobs has created barriers to aspiration and development and leaves people stuck in very low-end service roles unable to cross the divide. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and UKCES both provided excellent presentations on this and highlighted that this job polarisation has been magnified by recession.

Effective and collective leadership

Although there was a lack of opportunity to discuss what makes a good local leader in depth, the need for strong local leadership was reiterated throughout the event. The panellists and presenters often used a very broad definition of local leadership, from the parents, whose skills affect their children’s life chances; education providers and employers who need to build skills ladders and raise the floor on skills; to local civic leaders who provide drive and vision that places can get behind.

The leadership skills which did crop up again and again in the discussions, and were demonstrated by panel members themselves, reflected the new skills sets emerging across the board in all jobs, but are even more important in leaders:

  • Effective collaborators and partnership managers able to bring together coalitions, and able to ‘get people onside’ with what you are trying to achieve;
  • Increasingly networked, to learn from others, find new ways to tackle issues and access the people or organisations who can help deliver;
  • The need for clear vision but also flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and maximise opportunities;
  • Creativity and entrepreneurism to be able respond to continuous change;
  • Embracing of technology, innovation, and change, striving for creative places which draw the best people and are sustainable.

Breadth of interest

One of the most impressive and memorable elements of the event, was the use of Graphic Recording, capturing key quotes and ideas from the engaging panel discussions and full images can be found here. This technique helps to cement the ideas and thoughts of the event, captures the essence of the discussions and serves as an excellent reminder of the breadth of work going on in Local Leadership for Inclusive Growth.


The slides on the day are available to download here and a Storify of the event can be accessed here.

The Idox Information Service can help you access to a wealth of further information on local economic development. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading on the topics covered at the event*:

Tomorrow’s growth: new routes to higher skills

Describing inequalities in access to employment and the associated of geography of wellbeing

Local action, national success: how outcome agreements can improve skills delivery

Local leadership, local growth

Growth Cities: Local investment for national prosperity

A brighter future for our towns and cities

Looking through the hourglass: hollowing out of the UK jobs market pre- and post-crisis

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Grey men dreaming of vibrant cities?

Image by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

Image of MediaCity, Manchester by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

By Morwen Johnson

They control combined budgets of over £10bn, deliver 24.4% of the combined economic output of England, Scotland and Wales, and are home to over 21 million people. What are they? The Core Cities of the UK – and as pre-election lobbying ramps up a gear they are at the forefront of the devolution debate.

Last week I attended the Core Cities Devolution Summit. This event, hosted in Glasgow, marked the launch of a modern charter for local freedom. It also gave those interested in the current cities agenda a chance to hear from the city leaders on the potential benefits of reform.

I won’t summarise the charter, or the main recommendations of a new report from ResPublica which argues for the fullest possible devolution of public spending and tax raising powers to the UK’s largest cities and city regions. Instead, here are a few reflections on the day.

Bespoke devolution

The hype over Manchester’s recent devolution agreement with the Treasury shouldn’t distract from the fact that devolution is not a one-size-fits-all model. The idea isn’t to try and mimic Manchester’s journey – what’s on the cards is an approach that takes account of local circumstances.

I’m not sure that the end result of this – potentially radically different priorities in revenue generation, service delivery and spending between neighbouring metropolitan areas – is being communicated in a transparent way. Ben Page from IpsosMori shared some interesting survey results which suggest that public opinion also lags behind the political agenda:

ipsos survey 1

ipsos survey 2Leadership not bureaucracy

Mention devolution and one of the immediate responses of naysayers is to complain it’s just yet another layer of governance – more costs, more staff, more vested interests. This was raised during Q&A and the panel responded by saying that what they are proposing doesn’t require massive reorganisation – it’s about effective leadership. The same pots of money are used but funds can be accessed in different ways for different purposes.

This was only half-convincing. Repeated reference to place-based decision-making (breaking down functional /organisational silos to ensure services are focused on outcomes and those residents with complex needs) didn’t really explain how you build the trust and political capacity that’s needed to roll out transformation across multiple agencies/workforces at the same speed and scale.

Equalities

Presenting a different perspective on the day was Professor Lesley Sawers, who highlighted the risks of unintended consequences from devolution in terms of social justice and inequalities. She argued that so far localism has led to an approach to investment that has not been particularly effective in tackling equalities issues.

Cities should be great agents of social reform but the rhetoric around growth has a tendency to focus on infrastructure and macroeconomics – ignoring social challenges such as skills, poverty and under-achievement. And it may seem an easy point to score, but running an event with only 3 female speakers out of 25, didn’t really send a great message to observers. Don’t even mention the lack of ethnic diversity on the platform.

What now?

The devolution agenda may be the ‘only show in town’ but whether the core cities can take advantage of this to benefit and engage their own populations remains to be seen.


The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on governance and city regions. Members receive regular briefings as well as access to our Ask a Researcher enquiry service.