Youth Voices Narrative Workshop: Some Early Insights

On January 22, 2017 we gathered with a very courageous group of young adults who were willing to share stories about their experience of the parents’ divorce. This was the first step of our Youth Voices Initiative which is using a human-centred design process to maintain or improve the well-being of children faced with separation and divorce in their family.

It was an amazing day. The participants were bright, community-minded young people who wanted to help to make the system work better for others. They began by working in small groups to share short stories from their own experience. This was both moving and inspirational. This was very hard work which, in many cases, demanded recalling or even re-experiencing tragic and emotional moments in their young lives.  They were able to describe their experiences in vivid detail and, with the benefit of time and maturity, express important learnings and understanding .

Then each group began the intense process of recording key aspects of each story on different coloured post-its: characters, action and theme.  The participants were enthusiastic in naming the elements of their stories and identified a rich set of themes. They then began grouping the post-its, labelling, grouping again, labelling etc. for multiple rounds.   I was so proud of their determination to hang in there to complete this work which was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting.

I was confident that the workshop would provide our team with incredible information and inspiration for our change initiative.  My expectations were exceeded on that front.  What I had not expected was to witness the courage, honesty, and creativity of this amazing group of young people.  They have provided very valuable contributions to our system change discussion and if they are representative of the next generation of leaders I am really encouraged about the future.

Another thing I had not expected was the extent to which the small group participants found commonality between their stories and discovered overarching themes that touched each one of them.  I also sensed some relief, possibly because they had shared intimate details of their lives with total strangers and, instead of rejection, were greeted with “hey, I know what you mean” and “that happened to me too!”.  At the end of the session many young people told me that they were so glad they came and that they were so happy to have met others with similar experiences.  They felt less alone.  If we were able to create a sufficiently safe environment for them to share their stories and foster a sense of camaraderie then I am so grateful.

We are busy working with our facilitators (Open Road Communications) to analyze everything and we hope to report some insights in a few weeks.  Sincere thanks to the participants (you rock!), our volunteers and our faciliatators.

Kari Boyle, Coordinator