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Young investigators get to the heart of The Matter

You should have asked us ages ago.

That's the slogan of a new design initiative which aims to give young people a voice while helping them improve their skills and benefit wider society.

The Matter is currently being trialled in Stirling after debuting at the Design Council in London earlier this month.

The project is the brainchild of Lauren Currie and Sarah Drummond, the team behind the innovative online tool MyPolice, which gives members of the public the chance to interact with their local police force. It also uses social media and design principals by making young people available to answer questions and come up with original research and ideas on topics that matter to society.

Running as a micro-enterprise, clients such as councils, the Government or businesses can commission a team of young people to spend an eight-week period finding out about a topic and will then receive a presentation of the findings, including a newspaper produced by the team.

In the course of carrying out the work, The Matter says young people gain skills essential to employers, including working together, meeting deadlines and producing and commissioning publications.

An earlier trial in Edinburgh saw a team discuss ways the city council could successfully consult young people about community planning in the Forth neighbourhood and feed back the results through a 16-page newspaper report.

Meanwhile the Stirling trial will involve a group of nine 16 and 17-year-olds who are between school and work. They will be working on the scheme until late March, before reporting back to the client, Stirling Council, on better ways of helping young people who are not in education, work or training – the group previously dubbed Neets, and now referred to as "More Choices More Chances" by the Scottish Government.

Project manager Zahra Davidson says the group will be going out and interviewing others in youth clubs and centres, and liaising with Stirling Council. "They will be drawing on their own views and those of other young people in the area, then generating ideas and thinking about positive ways and solutions that might help the transition to work. Then they will be involved in the design process of writing and editing the newspaper and working with digital platforms to upload ideas."

The Matter was one of three new digital services unveiled as winners of the Design Council's Working Well Challenge in London earlier this month, which was looking for digital solutions that help young people develop their talents, build confidence, strengthen CVs and make a living.

The Matter has been supported by the Design Council and Nominet Trust to develop the project.

Mat Hunter, chief design officer at the Design Council, says jargon terms such as "neets" which are applied to disengaged young people were unhelpful. "This sends out a negative message and frames youth unemployment as a problem of economic policy. Instead, we should be focusing on how to improve the way young people secure the breaks they deserve."

The winning collaborations showed practical solutions could be found to complex problems, he says: "The teams have done really well at turning a national problem on its head to create something positive."

Sarah Drummond of Snook, the Scottish design agency behind The Matter, says it had not been envisaged as an employability scheme but an innovative consultancy, with the soft skills the young people gain as a bonus.

She admits to being surprised at the limited horizons of some of the young people involved. "We were asking what people thought the newspaper they'd produced might achieve, and one girl said. 'If my dad reads it, that would be amazing.'

"But it showed young people they can explore other routes and they became really very interested and excited about it."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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