Research Symposium discusses how to ensure meaningful youth engagement in today’s rapidly changing world

Student and mentor high fiving

Press Release

“I’ll do anything I can do to get young people heard.”

These words from devoted event MC, 23 year old Vira Paky, rang true throughout a recent Research Symposium hosted by the Graeme Dingle Foundation.

The research-based event hosted on February 17, has been running since 2013 and aims to build a supportive child and youth development research community which empowers young people.

Hosted in Partnership with the University of Auckland and Ara Taiohi, and supported by Ministry of Youth Development, this year’s symposium theme was Youth Engagement’ and focussed on creating space for the voices of young people and supporting their active engagement in matters that affect them. These are core principles of effective youth development practice and vital for a sustainable future.

Over 90 academics and experienced practitioners from the youth sector gathered to both learn, and present their research findings and best practice models for lifting youth engagement.

Graeme Dingle Foundation Research and Evaluation Coordinator and part of the team who organised the Symposium, Jessica Wong said “Young people in Aotearoa New Zealand desire social change that will improve their lives and the lives of their whānau. “

“Some are struggling to reconnect with others following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to facilitate conversation and provide ideas on meaningful youth engagement in today’s rapidly changing world“ she continued.

Youth engagement has dropped, particularly in the past few years given significant events our young people have faced.” she said.

A plethora of experienced speakers in the youth sector took the stage including Shelley Scarlett, a passionate teacher with 15 years’ experience supporting young people who cannot attend school full time or are disengaged from education completely. In her conversation she noted that ‘Large scale events exacerbate the disengagement and challenges we face’.

Youthtown’s Youth Work Development Manager Dr Natasha Urale-Baker also addressed the significant events faced in recent years, sharing with attendees Stories of Change, Engaging and sustaining youth participation during challenging times’.

Conversation shifted in the later part of the Symposium to acknowledge the impact of social media on young people, and drawing attention to the ever-changing digital landscape our youth are forced to navigate on a daily basis.

Tony Laulu of organisation Digital Discipline’ spoke of his service which is dedicated to helping people of all ages become more aware of the dangers and impact of social media and the over usage of any form of digital device.

The final presentation of the event was hosted by Graeme Dingle Foundation’s own Research and Evaluation Manager Julie Moore, who has developed a particular interest in the sharing of evidenced-based knowledge that supports the delivery of effective youth development programmes.

Moore explored the use of a theory of change approach to evaluate programmes and support programme development in real time. Importantly, she discussed the benefits of the Foundation’s own programmes.

“By increasing a young person’s belief in their capacity to effect positive change in their lives where they need it most, we can increase engagement and improve an individual’s wellbeing and quality of life.” Said Moore.

If you would like more information on the presentations from the 2023 Research Symposium, please contact Jessica Wong via email


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