I was very interested to read about a youth dialogue project from Germany in Open Democracy today. Founded  by Hassan Asfour and Siamak Ahmadi, the project works in schools to encourage young people to engage in dialogue about issues pertinent to them. It’s an antidote to the rapid polarisation of views and value systems proliferating across Europe and North America. 

The approach is to get to know the young people – what they’re interest in, what movies they like – as a basis to both build trust with the young people and to identify the issues they care about. They are then supported to have a dialogue about the issues they care about, building listening skills, appreciation for other view points and exploring consensus. 

This approach to ‘starting where people are’ and building a dialogue from there, seems to resonate with learning from a number of research and evaluation projects I’ve worked on in my role Renaisi and other successful approaches to building dialogue. For example, in our recent study into good practice employment support for people with mental health needs, we found that listening to a person’s interests – be they related to employment or not – can help to build trust and to identify working aspirations that are fulfilling and meaningful for that individual. 

At a collective level, it reminded me of the Citizen’s UK’s community organising model. This involves a process of listening to people’s everyday concerns and hopes as a basis for finding common ground on which to build active citizenship. 

In our ever fractious and polarised world, listening to young people and in turn giving them the skills to listen, could be just what we need.