This blog was written as part of Dartington’s Service Design Lab’s work leading the #iwill Fund Learning Hub. In it, Dartington reflect on what they've learnt through writing a paper on socio-economic disadvantage gap in youth social action.
As lead partners in the #iwill Fund’s Learning Hub, at Dartington Service Design Lab we’ve spent time understanding the questions that are closest to the #iwill Fund’s heart – and starting to provide answers from the available research. We started with one of the biggest: ‘What causes the socio-economic participation gap in youth social action – and how can we support more young people from less well-off backgrounds to participate?’ The desire to support this participation has driven much of the #iwill Fund’s investment to date, so we want to understand as much as we can.
That there is a socio-economic gap in participation is not in doubt - The National Youth Social Action Survey found that 51% of young people (10-20 years old) from the most affluent backgrounds took part in some form of social action in 2017 compared with 32% of the least affluent.
It also doesn’t come as that much of surprise. Not just because the same gap exists for adult’s participation in social action but because it also mirrors that found in participation in extra-curricular activities, like sport and music. And we found two reasons why this might matter – firstly because young people from lower income backgrounds may be missing out on the fun, learning, and longer-term benefits that youth social action can offer. And because wider society is not harnessing their skills and enthusiasm into activities which can benefit the wider community.
We plunged into the literature to see what has been found to explain this, and our full paper presents four theories, and ideas about what could be done to tackle each.
Secondly, the Team London Young Ambassadors programme adapted the message it gave to schools when asking them to refer pupils. The new message encouraged teachers to think of pupils from “diverse and deprived backgrounds” to counter “the inclination to put their ‘best’ students forward”. Based on the organisation’s own estimates using participant-reported postcodes, the majority of pupils engaged by the programme in its second phase lived or went to school in the most deprived areas of London.
Other funders and programmes within the #iwill Fund are trying different approaches to tackling the participation gap, including targeting Further Education colleges, building new delivery infrastructure in disadvantaged areas, and using other activities as a ‘hook’ to initially engage young people. You can read a longer list in the full report. The Learning Hub will be returning to funded projects to understand their progress over the coming months to understand more about promising approaches which could be scaled and shared.
The #iwill Fund is a £40 million joint investment from The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which is matched by over 20 Match Funders to support young people to access high quality social action opportunities. The #iwill Fund Learning Hub is designed to provide an invaluable source of information and support to the #iwill Fund delivery partners; to other delivery organisations providing youth social action opportunities and the institutions within which youth social action is embedded; to other funders who may support youth social action; and to the wider research community seeking to increase understanding of youth social action.