What is the role of gatekeepers in My Best Life?

Rose Anderson

We at NPC are thinking about ways to promote the My Best Life app, via the platforms on which charities are already listed (such as the Lambeth Council website), or through schools, or by investment in marketing or promotion. As our recent weeknotes have explained, we want to better understand how to introduce the app and how young people might get started with it. That’s included considering the role of ‘gatekeepers’ (such as youth workers) that young people might already know.

How will young people learn about the app?

Finding the app is crucial to young people having access to the services they want and need—after all, there’s no point in having a signposting app if the app itself isn’t well-signposted. It would be risky to assume that young people will just find the app by themselves; an online search would bring up a lot of information, but not necessarily about My Best Life. The young people might not even be looking for services, believing that they wouldn’t be understood or that it wouldn’t be for ‘people like them’.

This could be where youth workers and other gatekeepers come into the picture. They could tell the young people they work with about the app and explain how to use it. But would youth workers have the confidence in the app to recommend it to others? Gatekeepers typically build and develop relationships with other organisations over a long time, so they can manage the referral process. They have a responsibility to ensure the young people who put their trust in them are referred into a quality service. An app would not necessarily help with this more relational aspect of their work.

It might be that, as we input charity data into the app, we include additional information about whether or not the charity is in a partnership or a community group. This would show young people which services are related to one they already attend, building a sense of trust. However, would the young people we’re trying to reach realistically use the app to look up a service they already use? Such a feature might be more useful for their gatekeepers, to reassure them. We haven’t made a decision yet about including this feature in our app.

Furthermore, many in the voluntary and community sector already receive many requests from people asking them to put descriptions of their services on others’ websites. Where does My Best Life fit in? How do we make sure we’re not just creating more noise and more paperwork for gatekeepers?

What activities are we offering?

Perhaps, to clarify the role of gatekeepers, it would be useful to distinguish what young people are looking for. We’ve previously categorised My Best Life’s database entries as ‘services’ (counselling, advice, and anything else providing care and support), ‘opportunities’ (jobs, training and volunteering), and ‘activities’ (recreational hobbies and interests, such as football clubs and art groups). These different categories might have different requirements and different ways of being found.

For example, support services are more likely to require a formal referral, and youth workers would have a role to play in building a relationship with the organisation and assessing whether it would be beneficial for the young person they’re working with. By contrast, when it comes to recreational activities, young people might have more freedom to find these by themselves, make their own decision about whether to attend, and approach the organisation without (too much) assistance. Job opportunities would be somewhere in the middle. Youth workers might find the opportunity for a young person, or they might find it themselves. After that, youth workers might assist the young person with their application.

Taking note of this variety will be important, as it suggests that only certain situations would require a gatekeeper to get involved—for example, if the young person needed more specialised support.

How might we complement the work of youth workers?

For youth workers, our app may ultimately work better as a database than a recommending tool. It is likely that youth workers will continue to rely on their existing relationships, established through conversations and emails, to assess the quality and usefulness of services, rather than looking to a directory tool like My Best Life. However, it would be beneficial for them to have all the information about youth services in one place. They could read reviews by other young people directly, and perhaps also research services that their young people are already attending.

During the app’s development process, youth workers might be able to help us find young people who are willing and able to take part in usability testing. We currently don’t have any promotion work planned (although that could change), and we want to reach young people in Lambeth so we can see if the app is applicable to that local context. As a possible solution, youth workers could liaise on our behalf and get young people to sign up for testing. This would increase our chances of engaging young people who wouldn’t normally ask for recommendations, who we believe will benefit the most from the app.

We’ll need to have more conversations with youth workers, and then see if we want to make the app a tool to use with both young people and their gatekeepers. The challenge here is that, were we to integrate the role of gatekeepers into the app, there would be quite a significant pivot for the Beta sprint, as we would be talking to youth workers as well as young people.

Which young people are we trying to engage?

Before we go much further, however, we should be clear on which young people our app is going to target. We’ve heard from our previous research that young people typically find services through receiving recommendations from others and then researching them. The logic we have taken so far is that those people often have a limited set of recommendations and the information about the services online is not as comprehensive as it could be. Our proposed solution is an app which has lots of options and good information to help young people choose a service.

However, we are aware that our app won’t necessarily be for every young person. Some might have gone to other people they trust, received recommendations, and been able to find out more on the website. Even if the information isn’t complete, they still have enough to know what is right for them. Alternatively, they might already be attending a service and receive further recommendations from the other people there. This first group has less of a need for My Best Life.

But there are other young people who don’t have the information they need, perhaps because the people around them don’t know what is available, or because the young people don’t feel able to ask about what they want, or find an online search too daunting to sift through. This second group of young people would be the most likely to use our app and get something out of it—if they find it.

Given that this is our target group, perhaps the role of gatekeepers will be a more minimal one, because we’ll be focusing on young people who don’t have trusted gatekeepers to ask. In the next few weeks, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of all the options.

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