Why we should listen – YPPB

I was approached by Warwickshire’s Respect Yourself Campaign team and asked if I would set up a Young People’s Project Board, as they wanted to seek the views of a group of young people to help them design a new service seeker app’ for mobile phones.

The brief was to design a service seeker application for smart phones aimed to help young people to access sexual health services, in partnership between, SASH Coventry University and Coventry and Warwickshire NHS.

This would involve recruiting a group of young people from a local high school and giving them a broad training, and understanding of issues around Sexual Health and relationships. They would then be invited to join the project board meetings each month to add a voice for young people to the project.

Now at this point I was a bit skeptical, as I have had plenty of experience of professionals saying they would like to hear the voices of young people and consult – however, behind the scenes they have already made all the decisions and are using it as a tick-box exercise to please the funders and have very little interesting in hearing what young people actually have to say.

I was assured that this wasn’t the case and that they were really keen to listen – in fact that was the reason that Respect Yourself wanted a YPPB, they were concerned without young people’s input they risked spending all that money and ending up with something that at the end of the day no young person would use!

Now the problem with consulting with young people (apart from no one actually listening) is the danger of putting words in their mouth. I remember watching the Sex Education Show on Channel 4 a few years ago and hearing Anna Richardson ask a young person: “You think this because of porn don’t you…”, now there’s only one answer to a questions like that. Don’t get me wrong – any show that engages young people in discussions around SRE is fantastic in my book – it was just an example. However, young people are not stupid – they know what you want them to say and are happy to tell you what they think you want to hear.

But it begs the questions: How do you get young people to tell you what they really think?

I’m not saying I’m an expert – but when I work with young people, I find the best way to deliver any sessions is to encourage them to ask the questions, and ultimately lead the sessions – discussing what is on their minds. All I do is cheat and steer the conversation in the direction I would like them to head in. For example, there is no point asking young people to tell you what they think about porn – some will exaggerate to make themselves look cool, other will clam up embarrassed and thinking you will judge them by what they have watched. Instead I ask them where young people learn about sex from… I guarantee within a minute and a half they are talking about the internet, porn, webcams and what they have come across (no pun intended!) Most importantly though, they will start to ask questions without even thinking about it and we are away!

Anyway, I am getting side tracked. We rock up to our first board meeting with three of the new YPPB and everyone is sat there in their suits around a big boardroom table. It must have been quite intimidating for the young people, but they never batted an eyelid.

Typically when you are doing a project like this there is a certain type of young person who is encouraged/allowed to get involved by the school – if you know what I mean…. Now when I recruit for a project like this I always make it clear that I don’t want all the ‘good’ kids – I like the ‘gobby’ ones, those that will occasionally shout out, and will happily argue and tell you, that you are wrong.

This is what I was given…AVS students

So, we are in this board meeting and all of the professionals are raving about what a great idea the app is and explaining how it will work to the young people. They are all nodding politely, until they are asked what they think. This is the point when one of the young people says: “well it’s all very good, and I don’t want to be rude, but – Why would young people download the app in the first place?”

They went on to explain, that young people, rarely plan very well or think ahead. They said that a young person was unlikely to download the app –just in case, and were more likely to have something go wrong and then think about where to get help from. By this point it would be too late and they would just type into Google rather than find the app.

Instead they suggested that whatever we developed needed to be fun – and that young people would download it first to entertain them and their mates rather than as a tool to access services initially. This was a great lesson to learn, and goes back to what I was saying earlier – if you want to talk to young people – you need to engage them with what they want to know – not what you want to tell them!

And so the professionals around the table went away and came up with a new plan… and the new Respect Yourself website was born (including a service seeker application). Google analytics shows us that the young people were right, young people come to the site to look at the Pleasurezones, the Sextionary or the Your questions section, but then stay and look around at all the relationship pages, and other content such as information about contraception and service pages.

The site has become a wild success – and hit the national headlines in October 2012 due to its content and radical approach. The Daily Mail hated it – which made it even more popular! It was featured on This morning, Channel 5News special, The Wright Stuff and written about as far and wide as the US, Germany, France, Holland, India and South East Asia!

I am slightly biased – but the reason that the website is such a success is because every aspect on the site came from ideas put forth by young people. I can take you through the site and explain where each and everything came from and tell you the conversations behind it.


And that is what comes from really listening to young people…. Check out the website here:

Share Your Thoughts

Current month ye@r day *