Creating lasting impact by centering youth voice & choice

One of our core values at Camp Harbor View is to center the voices and experiences of our community in everything we do. We see it again and again, when the teens and families in our programs play a meaningful role in shaping our community initiatives, we maximize impact. 

The two of us recently had an opportunity to share with the American Camp Association community about our philosophy on centering participant voice and choice, as well as some of the tangible steps we’ve taken as an organization to make this aspiration a reality. Here are the three keys: 

  1. Always be learning
    We believe that to be our best, we must acknowledge the wins while constantly focusing on how we are learning from the participants in our programs. This is easier said than done, and we are working on it. 

    We’re relentless about inviting feedback and input after our programs, and we’re dedicated to building real relationships so teens and families know we’re really ready to listen, not just check off a box. And we make sure that we don’t rely on just one format or avenue of listening and learning. 

    • Surveys can be a quick method to hear from lots of folks, but they’re impersonal and might get lost in inboxes. One essential element is to make them easy to fill out and keep them short. One tactic we use is to ask one question after a session: “Did you like this activity?”
    • There’s nothing like an in-person conversation, but this requires travel, child care, and more. 

    The key is to offer more than one avenue to engage so everyone has a chance to contribute.
  2. Collect data and review it regularly
    Our process of becoming a learning organization is ongoing. One of the best ways we’ve instituted this culture change is by collecting data, analyzing it, and adjusting our programs—over and over again. 

    One of our areas of focus has been to create simple systems to review data regularly and reflect on what we’re learning as a team. A pile of data is useless unless you’re looking at it, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A monthly team meeting to review survey results, attendance, and other data is a helpful milestone.
  3. Commit to co-design
    At Camp Harbor View, we’ve established a Youth Council and Parent Advisory Board. These are new leadership groups in our organization. We are not just asking them for feedback, we are working with them to co-design our programs. We know that if we want to elevate our game and maximize our impact, it will be led with young people and parents walking the journey with us.

Whether you’re also running programs for youth and families or if you’re at a different kind of organization or company, we’d love to hear how you center voice and choice in your culture. Join the conversation over on Linkedin.