Manchester-Barcelona calling! The Mindset Revolution team place young people at the forefront of policy change in mental health

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Authors: Sonia Bussu (University of Birmingham), Saira Ali (peer researcher), Niamh Carroll (42nd Street), Ali Coleman (peer digital designer), Chimwemwe Chirwa (peer researcher), Sam Dixon (peer legislative theatre facilitator), Zarah Eve (Manchester Metropolitan University), Prateek Gupta (peer digital designer), Zainab Maria (peer digital designer), Juliet Oduro (peer legislative theatre facilitator), Linton Rainford (peer digital designer), Katy Rubin (legislative theatre expert) and Olivier Schulbaum (Platoniq Foundation)

About Mindset Revolution

Mindset Revolution started as a Manchester-based project placing young people’s lived experience of mental health at the heart of a participatory process to better the way we think of and respond to youth mental health challenges.

It had the ambition of creating space for youth democracy, through joyful and creative methods shaped and developed with young people to: talk about youth mental health; build a collective voice for change using legislative theatre and a digital participation process; and reflect with young people on their experience of participation and what they perceive as social impact.

In this experimental zone of resistance, the young people increasingly felt they owned the process and grew more confident about speaking up to power, whether the partners in the project that learnt with them about supporting positive and ethical youth participation, or the policymakers that were invited at different points in the process.

Involving participants in new projects in youth democracy and mental health

Nearly one year on from the official end of the project, Mindset Revolution is still a thing. Some partners continue to support young people’s efforts to keep attention high on the proposals to better youth mental health that they co-created. And many of the young people are now involved in new projects on youth democracy and mental health, on the back of this experience.

Shaping creative youth participation in Barcelona

In this spirit, we were invited to Barcelona to share with Catalan charities, institutions and young people what we did, learn from them and help them implement creative youth participation to shape mental health policies. And it was great!

Three main events punctuated this visit, each led by groups of young people: Ali, Linton, Prateek, Chim, Saira, Sam and Juliet, and Zainab joined us online on the first day. The first event, hosted by digital participation foundation Platoniq, was an opportunity to explore with digital designers in Barcelona how we can better use the civic tech participatory platform Decidim as a tool of “participatory scrutiny”.

Exploring civic tech platforms

The Decidim platform can help young people and their community keep track of policy change in response to their ideas. This is such an important part of any participatory process, but it’s too often overlooked.

What generally happens is that we coproduce with participants sound recommendations that are quickly shelved and forgotten, because policy pressures change all the time and new priorities emerge, or new people enter the scene and commission new projects on the same issues. But the problems and solutions that young people raise on mental health, project after project, are often similar.

Rather than keeping reinventing the wheel, we’re trying to pool resources and the Decidim platform can become a hub to share knowledge, make space for youth voice, gather support for their proposals and keep attention high on implementation, also through open-ended dialogues with sympathetic policy people (and there are many!).

We need larger coalitions from civil society to policymakers to push these changes through. We also want to find ways to use digital better to support in-person youth participation, which is crucial to build trust, solidarity and democratic skills.

Combining civic tech with Legislative Theatre to do policy differently

We used very creative methods, like Legislative Theatre, and the platform should convey the same energy to amplify the joyful and productive disruption we need not only to  challenge the status quo, but to co-create alternative and more just ways of doing policymaking.

We’re working on several new components for Decidim inspired by how the young people used it in our project. In the Barcelona workshop, we co-ideated how we could translate our legislative theatre experience on the platform, from deliberative podcasting and creative data narratives and visualisations to support play development and discuss the policy proposals, to chapbooks to keep campaigning for implementation after the performance.

Learning across the commons: public assets for youth mental health

The second event blew our minds. Barcelona young people showed us how they are reclaiming the state. We first went to visit the Kasal de Joves (Young People’s House) in Roquetes, a working-class neighbourhood with a long history of resistance and strong commons that manage many public assets, providing services to the community. The young people of Kasal de Joves shared how they work. They manage a public building, they have their own assembly to make decisions and agree how to raise and invest resources.

With support from youth workers, they deliver a number of workshops on music, cooking and what have you that are of interest to young people in the neighbourhood.

It’s a real school of democracy!

During our visit, young people from Manchester and Barcelona shared their experience of mental health challenges and the intersectional oppressions they often face, as immigrants, queer, working-class young people. Solidarity was stronger than any language barriers.  

Techniques to support collective understanding

We continued our visit to the Roquetes commons in Masia de la Guineueta, where the young people’s association is based and the assembly meets. After meeting the famous Roquetes’ dragon, we exchanged reflections on how participatory research can become an empowering tool of collective understanding and action for young people. We heard from young peer researchers in Barcelona about their work with school children in Roquetes, focusing on immigration.

The Mindset Revolution young people shared their experience of using podcasting as a research tool to explore difficult topics of mental health and racism in a safe space. They shared important learning for any professionals wanting to do non-extractivist research that genuinely prioritises young people’s rights. You can read more about this here.

This encounter with young people in Barcelona would have deserved so much more time – one afternoon was not enough, but it inspired so many ideas on what youth democracy can look like. Young people from Roquetes and Mindset Revolution were keen to work together again on future projects, especially on a podcast or something equally creative.

Our final event was just as exciting. We were invited by the Catalan Youth Services who were interested in our project. In particular they wanted to learn more about how we used legislative theatre for youth mental health, as they set out to renew their youth mental health policy.

Legislative Theatre is a joyful democratic practice that challenges systemic oppressions through a play that represents the participants’ lived experience. But it doesn’t just challenge existing unjust rules; it opens space for co-creation of alternatives that can promote social justice.

Peer researchers training youth services in Barcelona

Some of the young people in Mindset Revolution were also trained as legislative theatre facilitators and they took the lead in demonstrating the power of this practice as a way to discuss mental health from young people’s unique perspective and bridge the gap between them, the community and the policymakers. The latter are invited as spectators and play a crucial role in supporting policy change.

Legislative Theatre really brings out the soul of democracy as relational, based on empathy and understanding the world from another’s perspective. It creates a space for a shared human experience, a necessary starting point to build alliances for progressive change across different groups.

The Catalan Youth Services were inspired, and we’ll keep in touch with them to see how they try to incorporate legislative theatre as part of their work with young people.

The events were just one part of this trip to Barcelona. There was also a lot of fun, friendship and care for each other. During the project the different groups working on legislative theatre, digital participation and participatory research didn’t get as much time together as they would have liked.

The trip to Barcelona strengthened each group’s relationship with one another and we have made long lasting connections because of it. This group has come a long way together and we’re still going!