The absent audience: youth engagement

The Australian Government’s National Youth Policy Framework 2021, states that Generation Z is on track to be the most well-educated generation in history.

The United Nations defines 'youth' as anyone between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.

But when you walk (or dial) into a community information session, who do you see? Any youth?

Young people are often absent in the infrastructure engagement space. So, how can we ensure they are represented? 

As engagement practitioners, it’s important that we no longer take a homogenised approach to communication. We need to take more steps to understand who we are talking to, including using data to segment our audiences, to better target youth.

Addressing the participation problem

Traditional engagement doesn’t entice young people to participate. Information sessions, newsletters and town halls aren’t exactly riveting for most people, let alone the young.

The shift to digital forms of engagement via social media, augmented and virtual reality, online hubs, meeting and collaboration spaces, have reduced many of the traditional barriers to engagement - time, location and age.

But with youth being more connected than ever, why are they absent when it comes to matters or decisions that affect their future? And as engagement practitioners, what can we do differently?

But with youth being more connected than ever, why are they absent when it comes to matters or decisions that affect their future? And as engagement practitioners, what can we do differently?

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The Youth Engagement Project

At RPS, we are passionate about inclusive engagement. In 2021 we partnered with the UTS BCII Industry Innovation Project and a transdisciplinary group of students to explore the youth participation problem. We challenged ourselves to better understand how youth can be involved in decision-making for the future.

The result is a new Youth Engagement Guide that is empowering RPS practitioners, clients, and projects to shift how we engage. Together with the students, we examined the barriers to youth engagement and explored innovative methods for practitioners to employ. The guide is informed by research findings by youth, for youth.

What did we find out?

Our research revealed that youth want to engage but don’t know how. They feel disenfranchised and may not value their voice. They also feel safer engaging with organisations they trust.

The idea that youth are disengaged because they are disinterested is not true.

The highest answer when asked 'why do youth participate in consultation' was 'I care about the future.'

The research reinforced what years of experience designing and delivering engagement programs for Australia’s largest infrastructure projects had already taught us - that trust, authenticity, tailored communication methods, and incentivised engagement are key to enhancing the dialogue between young people, large corporations, and the government.

Working on the Guide also highlighted the two-fold benefits of engaging with youth. They benefit from experiences of personal development, self-awareness, civic duty, and finding their voice. Organisations and governments benefit from new perspectives, real inclusivity, and the knowledge that what they are building is ‘fit for purpose’ when it comes to future generations.

Group of young people smiling and clapping as if at a concert

'Young people make invaluable contributions to communities, and are empowered themselves, when they participate' - YERP, 2020

So, what does it take to engage the youth?

Simply engaging with youth should not be seen as the end-point on the journey of community engagement - an outcome or KPI to be achieved. It’s not a straightforward, linear process, but it should absolutely be part of the foundation of effective and inclusive engagement that we build our projects on. It requires an open mind and a desire to explore what’s possible.

My work on the development of this research (and on so many engagement processes for clients) has taught me that youth engagement needs to have a clear purpose, be meaningful, challenging, and enjoyable. It’s also taught me that to stay relevant we need to continually challenge our own beliefs and values, as well as broader social and cultural attitudes towards young people.

Putting it into practice

A recent youth workshop run by RPS for Landcom was designed to seek youth voices and perspectives on the design of the Hills Showground Park.

Digital tools like Zoom and MURAL were used to create a virtual space where young people from the Hills Shire of Sydney were invited to explore aspects of the initial park design. The activity was facilitated by a youth engagement practitioner and food delivery vouchers were provided to encourage participation.

There was an overwhelming interest to participate from youth, and the feedback from participants and clients was excellent. It showed that creating an environment where youth feel comfortable and empowered to participate − even if virtually − is essential. You can find out more about the project at

Hills Showground Artist's impression

RPS artists impression: Hills Showground Park

We have a responsibly to ensure all voices are heard as engagement practitioners, and the youth of today have important views about the projects we are developing for tomorrow. With new research and tools in hand – developed in consultation with young people – we’re leading the change, and supporting our clients to hear what they have to say.


Want to know how RPS can help you connect with young people on your next project? Get in touch!


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