Ōtautahi – A city of learning opportunities
The Christchurch City Council’s vision of Christchurch as a ‘city of opportunity for all’ encapsulates a wide variety of opportunities, from employment through to stunning scenery. These opportunities include a diverse range of learning experiences for children and young people. However, the lack of a single place to easily find out about learning opportunities means that many children and young people are unaware of the majority of opportunities available to them. This story outlines how a project was initiated to address this.
An in-depth scoping project jointly funded by the Ministry of Education and the Christchurch City Council aimed to address this need by developing and implementing an online platform which lists all the learning opportunities and experiences available to children and young people in and around Christchurch city.
The project has already identified more than 400 separate learning opportunities available for children and young people and it is likely that this number significantly underrepresents the true number of opportunities. This is due to organisations often using a traditional view of what constitutes a learning opportunity – courses, talks or structured programmes. The scoping project involved consultation with businesses and industry, as well as educational organisations.
According to Tracey Mills, the superbly titled ‘Chief Wrangler’ for the scoping project, one of the unforeseen benefits was that it legitimised opportunities or offerings that organisations had not previously considered as learning opportunities. “Often they would start by saying, oh, but we don’t offer learning, that’s not what we do. But when they reflected on it in more depth, they realised how many learning opportunities they already provide, as well as how much scope there is for what they could provide that they currently don’t”, said Tracey.
Engaging with youth
As well as compiling a digital directory of learning opportunities, the project’s major aim was to understand children and young people’s awareness of these opportunities. Tracey worked with young people, including the Christchurch Youth Council, to shape the consultation process so that it met the needs of children and young people. She then consulted with more than 150 children and young people to gather their thoughts and ideas about the content, format and capability of the online platform.
Participants were very clear on the importance of being able to self-direct and personalise their experience with the digital platform – being able to search according to their interests, age group or by key words, as well as being able to personalise the appearance of the platform on their mobile phone.
They viewed the platform as dynamic, being able to send notifications, and allowing them to share events or notifications with friends and teachers. They also wanted to be able to record their activity by capturing the opportunities they had taken part in and compiling a ‘wish list’ of future opportunities. They also suggested functions such as a calendar and a map.
The ease of accessing opportunities of interest was of central importance to their likelihood of using the platform, and many gave the example of wanting links to go directly to the opportunity rather than to the home page of the organisation offering that activity. The number of clicks it took to access the key information about the opportunity of interest was a major determiner of young people’s interest in using the platform.
“It was interesting hearing that, as it was such a mismatch between what young people were saying and what organisations were saying,” says Tracey. “An organisation would say they really value young people, but young people couldn’t find on that organisation’s website any information showing them they were valued. They had to spend time clicking and looking for it, so the message about being valued was really undermined by the actual operation.”
To test the concept, a ‘learning opportunity’ filter was added to the Christchurch City Council’s news and events site and app, allowing children and young people to easily navigate to relevant learning opportunities (https://www.ccc.govt.nz/news-and-events/find-a-learning-opportunity). Initial feedback from organisations and young people has been useful in informing the future of the project.
Feedback from organisations is that for them to habitually submit events and opportunities, the submission process must be quicker and more streamlined. Young people don’t yet see themselves reflected in the nature of the opportunities available, and perceive the listed opportunities as targeting an older age group, particularly parents.
With the scoping and prototyping complete, the next steps are for the project team and funders to consider the findings and take the next steps in creating a full digital directory, and then deciding whether this remains integrated with the Christchurch City Council site, or becomes a standalone platform.
“Ultimately”, says Tracey “we hope that this will change our young people’s perspectives that there’s nothing to do that’s targeted to them and their interests. The message should not be that ‘Christchurch is boring’, because there’s heaps out there for children and young people.”
- Quick turnaround – Something that surprised Tracey was the gap between what the adult project group considered a very agile and speedy process, and what young people participating in the scoping expected. “We were humbled – we were so happy to be on track to complete this on time and in such a short timeframe, but young people kept asking us – what’s going on? What’s happening? Some young people had had children in that time period, some had moved to a new year level or a new school. Compared to our perspective, a year is a long time in a young person’s life.” A takeaway for schools or other organisations is to ensure there are short-term milestones where tangible progress can be demonstrated or reported, to sustain the feeling of momentum and maintain young people’s engagement.
- Rapid prototyping – The filter on the Christchurch City Council’s events page was not the initial intended solution for young people to access a directory of learning opportunities. However, being able to use this opportunity to rapidly prototype how a standalone online platform could operate has yielded valuable feedback that extends and triangulates the findings from the initial consultation.
- Involve young people in design – Rather than consult young people using a process designed by the project team, Tracey worked closely with young people to design the consultation process, resulting in more authentic outcomes, a more diverse group of participants, and higher levels of engagement.
- Support young people to carry out consultation themselves – Participants felt such strong ownership of the process that some wanted to facilitate their own consultation with friends and peers. “I had to say 150 plus participants because I didn’t know the real number. Young people kept getting in touch and sending me docs, and saying ‘I’ve asked my friends – there were seven of us sitting around’. It was great to see such enthusiasm.”
- Give the opportunity for the review of feedback – Feedback was collated and shared back with participants, allowing them to correct any misinterpretations, or fill in gaps where the meaning was unclear or the writing difficult to decipher.
- The ‘checking back’ process – was emphasised as important by the Christchurch Youth Council, and Tracey believed this helped to increase young people’s trust and engagement in the project, since they could see their individual contributions being used and valued.
Christchurch City Council Event finder – Find a learning opportunity: A guide to workshops, courses and classes in and around Christchurch.
Ōtautahi city of learning kete: Ideas and resources about learning opportunities in and around Ōtautahi (Christchurch).