Giving Social Action a Voice: Reframing Communication as Social Action

Gemma McKenna, Lee Edwards

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


In recent times the social action agenda has started to recognise young people’s role as active citizens with the potential to drive social change in a constrained fiscal climate. This has been recognised in Government supported initiatives such as Step Up to Serve’s #iwill campaign and the National Citizen Service (NCS). While these programmes offer a ‘double benefit’ both to individuals and wider society, the programmes’ focus on skills development can mean that social action becomes a set of
non-discursive, practical activities, which can leave the value of young people’s voices sidelined.

This position paper was designed to contribute to the debate on youth social action by reframing communication about social issues as a transformational form of social action in itself. By extending the current perception of social action beyond its dominant definition, new priorities for the government’s social action agenda are proposed. The focus is repositioned towards the importance of helping young people to communicate effectively about issues important to them.

A mixed method approach was adopted: 100 young people were surveyed who had completed a project with Fixers. Fixers was also used as the best practice example supplemented by findings from a previous independent evaluation of their activities.

The findings revealed that a voice as value approach, as adopted by Fixers, has the potential to reinvigorate youth social action by focusing on the potential for all young people to participate effectively in inspiring, formulating and helping to deliver social change, and particularly marginalised young people who are currently under-represented in traditional social action programmes. The findings also highlight that policy change must start with institutional recognition of the importance of
communication as a means of transformation, and institutional support for the meaningful development and expression of voice by young people.

To be adopted more widely however, a voice as value approach requires a policy commitment to evidence-based interventions. In order to achieve this, the following recommendations are made to encourage policymakers to:

acknowledge the powerful transformative role that communication can play in generating social change when properly facilitated and valued;
value the experiences of young people; recognising them as sources of expertise and insight for social change;
adopt a long-term strategy for youth social action that empowers young people to provide input into agendas for social change, rather than prescribing the environment or strategies for change;
embed diversity and inclusivity in youth social action so that the transformative potential of voice as value is available to as wide a group of people as possible
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUniversity of Leeds
PublisherCommunities and Culture Network +
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016


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