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How to find out what young people really want from music education

Dynamix image

With thanks to Dynamix for the image.

With the national music education plan out hopefully early next week, local authority music services and others hoping to become part of the new music education ‘hubs’ will have to find ways to demonstrate what young people in their area want and need.

It’s a tricky one, particularly for music services who have been used to thinking in terms of ‘what we can deliver’ rather than ‘what people need’.

As Mark Jaffrey (Director of Think Again agency and previously Music Manifesto Champion and DCMS advisor) mentioned on Twitter recently (@MarkJaffrey): “Before you consider provider ‘services’, think about pupils needs and differentiate – SEN, Gifted, etc. How will you meet their needs?”

And of course it goes wider than that, particularly to all of those many young people who you haven’t yet found a way to reach. And if you haven’t yet found a way to reach them, how will you find out what they want?

Participatory consultation

I’d say that music services could do well to use some of the methods used by those working in youth and community development services. They’re not marketing or market research specialists, but they know how to find out what young people want.

That’s largely because they’re talking to them daily about what they want and need and the challenges they face. Critically, young people are usually involved in some way in decision-making – another aspect that music education hubs will need to address.

But in terms of research, they’re far more likely to take a more active and creative approach to consulting young people (often referred to as ‘participatory consultation’) rather than conducting a survey or running focus groups.

And this could prove a really useful method for music education services/hubs.

Participatry consultation will usually involve:
•    creating an appealing event that they’ll want to come to, where they are able to actively participate, have fun, get some benefit from and feel listened to
•    using techniques that are ‘activities’ that are participatory (more like games than a meeting)
•    asking questions that you may be afraid to ask and leave plenty of opportunities for creative thinking – don’t just focus your questions on what you already think you can do/provide
•    marketing it by going to where young people are rather than using traditional marketing channels
•    making a genuine commitment to listen and act on what they say and feedback to them
•    following up afterwards to feedback on progress and let them know how their views have been acted upon.

Participation - Spice it up!I learned most about this from an organisation called Dynamix, and I’ve used their methods in one way or another in work for Sound Sense, Gloucestershire Music, and Creative Partnerships. I would recommend getting hold of a copy of their book: Participation: Spice it up! for more detailed guidance about this, but for now here are a few thought-starters:

Creating an appealing event
Create something that young people are going to want to be a part of, that sparks their curiosity, engages them, and shows them that what they say is important, and will have an impact. Perhaps a gig with local bands and break out sessions in between, or tie your research in with something that’s already taking place and that’s popular with a wide range of young people.

Using techniques that are participatory
You’ve probably taken part in these type of activities before, anything from ‘Human Bingo’  (an ice-breaker where you walk around the room asking each other questions to tick off those who fit into a particular category, from ‘had their photo in a newspaper’ to ‘scuba dived’ to ‘speak more than one language’) to ‘Dot Voting’ (where you create a list of possible answers in response to a statement – eg instruments you want to learn; ways you want to make music – on a flip chart, give each person three sticky dots, and ask them to place them next to the three options that are most important to them).

Ask questions beyond what you’re already doing, leave space for creative thinking
If you genuinely want to hear what young people want, you have to be prepared to change what you do and therefore to leave the space in your research and consultation for all sorts of ideas. We’ve all seen those see-through surveys where you just know the questions rigged to tell people what they want to hear. Don’t do that with young people! They will see through it quicker than adults (in fact, if you use the methods in Dynamix’s book it would be really hard to do this).

Try different routes for reaching young people – go to where they are – at gigs, at youth clubs, but more importantly, at home in front of their computer talking to their friends on Facebook. Facebook is free, incredibly powerful, and you’ll reach huge number of young people if you do it right. I’ll write a separate blog about Facebook soon, but if contact me if you don’t know where to start and I will do my best to answer any questions. In the meantime some quick tips:

•    set up an ‘official page’ rather than a group or community page (it gets ranked in search engines so is easier to find)
•    add your consultation event as an ‘event’ and promote it on the page and invite people
•    promote your page to the pupils you already work with (put the address on any written communications with them/their parents), and encourage them to ‘like’ the page
•    offer an incentive (give away something of value that young people will want)

Gwent Music Support Service have a great Facebook page that I’ve had a lot of fun following, with interesting YouTube clips that are inspiring and enjoyable to watch.

Genuine commitment and follow up
‘Consultation involves a thought-through process of aims, methodology, how views will be taken on board, and how they will be fed back to the group. Anything less is tokenism.’ (Participation – Spice it up! Dynamix.)

You’ll know best how you can feed back to young people: and you can ask participants at the time how they’d like to hear about what’s happened as a result of their participation. But consultation is just the starting point. You may (hopefully) want to take things further by involving young people in decision-making, and there may be various degrees of involvement that you might explore, from tokenism (you can sit on a youth committee but we will only take the ideas we like) to involving young people every step of the way in planning, decision-making and implementation.

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