Scaling impact through meaningful youth engagement in research, foresight and convening
Bringing young people’s ideas and visions for the future to the world
4 minute read
With the clock ticking towards 2030 – amidst a backdrop of increased political polarization, the climate crisis, the rise of populist movements, ever-increasing distrust towards institutions, and the aftermath of a global pandemic that disproportionately impacted children and young people and exacerbated intergenerational unfairness – it is more important than ever to find ways to support and elevate young people’s access to spaces of influence so they can each contribute to their community, their society, their country and their future.
But young people’s ideas and visions for the future are often missing in the very spaces where decisions about their future are being made. Building healthy and productive intergenerational working relationships can narrow the empathy gap between those in power and the lived experiences of children and young people, while promoting intergenerational justice and long-term thinking in policymaking. This is well captured in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda and in his call to make meaningful youth engagement a requirement in all UN decision-making processes and for all UN Member States to expand and strengthen youth participation in decision-making at all levels.
It is in this context that UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight is modeling what constitutes meaningful youth engagement in research, foresight and convening. The three main goals we’re working towards are:
- Model, standardize and systematize meaningful, ethical and safe youth engagement across research, foresight and convening.
- Understand, elevate, and respond to the lived experiences of young people today.
- Partner with young people to build institutional anticipatory capacity and proactively address emerging issues and future disruptions that could greatly impact children and young people in the future.
With a vision and our goals set up, the UNICEF Innocenti Youth Engagement and Strategy team kicked off last year with a focused portfolio looking to model meaningful youth engagement at UNICEF’s Leading Minds Conference – which is known for its youth-centered design and delivery – and in the development of UNICEF’s Global Outlook, UNICEF’s annual global trends analysis, by testing a youth foresight approach in replacement of traditional youth consultations.
The prospect of reimagining youth consultations was something that felt exciting – after all, we should be embracing experimentation in our Office! We wanted to find a way to bring young people into a process that was not fully designed, so that they too felt empowered to help steer our strategy and approach. This set us on a path to articulate what would become our principles for meaningful youth engagement in foresight, which include respect, participation, ownership, collaboration, transparency, accountability, flexibility, skills building, and compensation, all of which underpin our Youth Foresight work. We will soon be publishing a Youth Foresight Playbook that dives deeper into these principles.
Creating UNICEF’s Youth Foresight Fellowship
As part of this experiment, we decided to launch a call for young people with experience in foresight to explore how youth foresight, a systematic way of imagining possible futures and informing decision-making with a particular focus on the perspectives and needs of young people, could help strengthen UNICEF’s global trends analysis. And it was this experiment that led to the launch of UNICEF’s first Youth Foresight Fellowship and, with it, the establishment of a new youth foresight function within UNICEF Innocenti.
Enabled by foresight and a meaningful youth engagement approach, our Youth Foresight Fellows, hailing from different regions of the word, embarked on a six-month journey organizing participatory foresight workshops for over 85 youth, UNICEF staff and partners from 23 countries; contributing insights to the UNICEF Innocenti report Prospects for Children in the Polycrisis: A 2023 Global Outlook; designing the toolkit Our Future Pledge: An Agenda for Futures by Youth; and engaging with UN leaders at high-profile events to discuss the role of youth in foresight.
Working closely with young foresight practitioners for half a year taught us invaluable lessons. We saw first-hand how foresight processes, particularly the focus on a long time-horizon, can help create safe spaces for youth inclusion in development and policy-making processes. We observed how foresight can serve as an antidote to ageism by valuing alternative and diverse opinions as equally important in shaping the future. We couldn’t help but notice how young people’s openness to change predisposes them to be natural foresight practitioners, and how participation in foresight processes created a spike in optimism and hope.
As we embarked on our youth foresight journey, we were heartened by how welcoming and supportive the foresight community were, especially UN Global Pulse, Teach the Future, SOIF and its NGFP network, Metafuture, and Futurely, all of whom we’re proud to call our friends and thought partners, and whose legacy and work continues to inspire UNICEF’s Youth Foresight function.
Introducing the 2023 Fellows
One year later, I'm excited to announce our second cohort of UNICEF’s Youth Foresight Fellows. This year we've partnered with UNICEF offices in countries and their partners and, informed by the feedback from our first cohort of fellows, will be scaling this work and focusing both on the global (again contributing to the global trends analysis) and on translating how these trends and signals manifest for young people at national and local levels, as they mobilize, advocate and work to make their preferred futures a reality.
In its new iteration, this year-long program will foster and harness the talents of young visionaries aged 15-25 from Algeria, Argentina, Comoros, Egypt, Ghana, Maldives, Mali, Myanmar, Türkiye, Pakistan, the UK and the USA. Over the course of 12 months, fellows will hone their foresight skills and have the opportunity to contribute to pioneering research and advocacy projects highlighting the transformative power of young minds to shape the future.
If you're interested in learning more about youth foresight and the tools available, Our Future Pledge compiles resources from the aforementioned organizations and others. Additionally, in November, we’re excited to be launching UNICEF’s Youth Foresight Playbook at the Dubai Future Forum.
Join us in elevating young people
We look forward to being guided by the exciting ways in which youth-centered strategies are being scaled. With 2030 closing in, and the SDGs woefully off-track, UNICEF Innocenti’s work to rethink, test, model and scale new approaches to meaningful youth engagement across research, foresight and convening could not come at a more fitting time.