Improving Youth Wellbeing: A Collaboration Between Government, Young People and the Youth Sector

The Top of the South Impact Forum

The Top of the South Impact Forum is a regional inter-agency group in the Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough regions. It exists to improve social outcomes for the community by improving collaboration and reducing duplication between agencies.

In early 2018, the Forum identified four focus areas. Three of these were about pressing challenges: methamphetamine, sexual family violence and housing. As a result of advocacy from Sport Tasman the

Forum also added “young people” as a focus area as it was felt this would enable the agencies to work ‘at the top of the cliff’ on prevention initiatives.

We attended the first meeting of an Oversight Group with representatives from Nelson Marlborough Health, Ministry for Education, Nelson City Council, Marlborough District Council, Tasman District Council, Ministry of Social Development and Police.

At this stage, the scope, purpose and direction was unclear.

Our Solution: Codesigning With Young People and the Youth Sector

The first stage of this project had a focus on meaningfully engaging with and empowering young people to understand their challenges and create solutions.

Interviews to understand the context

We started by interviewing a range of key people from across the region, including government officials, youth workers and young people in youth groups.

Thematic analysis of these conversations highlighted the following high-level challenges for young people in the region:


These interviews highlighted a lot of the excellent work going on in the region. They also showed that historically most agencies working with young people had a top down approach to service delivery. While in some cases this involved “consultation” with youth, there was no evidence of shared leadership models.

One official said “I can’t remember the last time we asked young people what they wanted.” Another said “There’s a complete disconnect between how agencies and young people operate.”

The interviews also further reiterated that while some organisations have mechanisms for involving young people in decision-making, others focused mainly on consulting and informing young people about youth services. This showed there was an opportunity for agencies to shift from “delivering to” young people to “working with” young people.

Top of the South Youth Hui welcome circle

The Oversight Group agreed that the process needed to involve genuine engagement with young people to shape the priorities and solutions. By codesigning with service providers and young people, this would build on existing agency and community efforts to reduce duplication and support local solutions.

Identifying opportunities with young people

We facilitated a full-day hui that brought together a mix of 40 young people, government officials and youth workers.

“Paul’s skills and the overall kawa for the day were critical in creating an environment where the young people felt welcome, valued and respected as equals.” - Brent Thawley, South Island Area Manager, Sport NZ

To establish whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building), we began with some activities to allow everybody to introduce themselves and say what they needed to ensure they had a good day.

In small groups we asked the attendees to identify some of the challenges young people face around the four key themes identified from the interviews. To facilitate this process, we offered a mixture of magazine images and post-its for attendees to share their ideas.

The group collected the ideas together into themes. We then facilitated an active prototyping session for groups to create and test potential solutions.

This video talks through the process used along with some youth participants speaking about how supported they felt by the adults in the room.

“It’s actually really different because it’s more collaborative here than other places”

“Today I came into this meeting thinking it was going to be a very long few hours of sitting at a table talking but once we got into it, it was a really exciting atmosphere. I really enjoyed connecting with everyone and sharing our ideas and what we think needs to be done”

Focusing on solutions

At a second hui two months later, the group came together to narrow their focus to four opportunities:

  1. Improving teacher-student communication about wellbeing

  2. School camps focused on wellbeing (including physical activity)

  3. Community centres as youth support hubs

  4. Outdoor adventure-based activities as alcohol and other drug programmes

This video shares some reflections from participants on what has made this process different and effective.

Initial Results

At the time of writing, this process is only part-complete. The government funders have extended our involvement to further embed the innovative new way of working.

However, the process has already resulted in some positive changes in agency behaviour and practice:

  • Organisations are taking a more proactive approach to ensuring young people’s voices are heard and acted on. For example, after the second hui, Nelson Marlborough Health created a new role called the Youth Consumer Advisor to bring young people’s voices into its service delivery.

  • Sport Tasman is considering how it might bring a youth voice onto their board and accept Kiwisport applications from organisation working alongside young people on Top of the South projects that include sport or active recreation.

Most notably has been the positive feedback from the young people involved so far have spoken highly about what they have learned, with six young people expressing an interest to join the inter-agency Oversight Group.

“I’ve been to quite a few of these youth hui type things and I was not really expecting a lot from it. But I was actually really pleasantly surprised by this one. We got to interact with a really wide age group and meet lots of people from a wide age group and meet lots of people from different backgrounds. I’m actually really inspired from this one so I hope others can experience what I’ve felt today as well.”

In 2019, the group has plans for several hui to further progress the four project ideas and to engage with a broader range of young people and adults.

Do you want to involve more young people in your work?

Once you create mechanisms for youth voice, your organisation will never look back. But it can be challenging to know where to start. With our engaging and inclusive facilitation, your organisation can shift from “delivering to” to “working with” young people.