Youth participation and policy making

Pivotal is an independent think tank that wishes to foster debate about the future, encourage greater contribution from marginalised voices and develop a culture of evidence–based policy making in Northern Ireland. 

 We are passionate about working with community members to co–design research projects which add local evidence to pressing issues in Northern Ireland such as healthcare, the environment and wider government functioning. Our work aims to develop viable and inclusive policy solutions that are rooted in local evidence.

Youth participation in research and policy–making is crucial to create meaningful policy solutions.  Young people’s experiences and solutions are not always considered by decision–makers, even when the final policy outcome may have a profound impact on their lives.  Furthermore, whilst some agencies consult with young people, these processes may be criticised for listening but not responding to youth concerns. 

We recently worked with the Secondary School Students’ Union (SSUNI) in a collaborative project to develop youth–centred policy improvements in Northern Ireland.

SSUNI represents students from the age of 11 to 19 in post–primary schools across Northern Ireland. The organisation aims to represent students in decision making about their education and wellbeing.  SSUNI recently explored the impact of Covid–19 on education and wellbeing amongst secondary students.  The pandemic led to school closures, changes in assessment and significant distress for some young people. Lockdown measures significantly disrupted education delivery and may have contributed to an increase in mental health problems amongst some young people.  SSUNI explored these issues by surveying over 2,000 students from November–December 2020 on their experiences of education and mental health during the pandemic.

Pivotal supported SSUNI to help members to develop policy recommendations based on the findings of their mental health survey. Over the course of several weeks, we facilitated policy workshops to SSUNI on a range of topics including approaches to research analysis and evidence–based policy making.  We also worked closely with SSUNI to develop the final report. 

 Cormac Savage, SSUNI President, reflects on his experience of working with Pivotal:

‘It was a total delight working with Pivotal!  It enabled us to turn our data into a meaningful report with policy recommendations.  As young people we had limited experience and background in this sort of work, Pivotal enabled us to take our knowledge to the next level’


The collaboration was a successful combination of Pivotal’s expertise in conducting evidence–based policy research and SSUNI’s solutions to mental health problems within education.  Working together enabled both organisations to transform grassroots evidence into valuable policy recommendations. The final report, ‘Mental Health Matters’, was successfully launched at an online event on 9th February 2021with representatives from major political parties in Northern Ireland and the interim Mental Health Commissioner. 

Children and young people are central to our research and engagement plan for 2021.  We are committed to better understanding young people’s challenges and solutions across three key projects:


  • Vision 2040:
    An exploration of young people’s hopes and goals for Northern Ireland in 2040 
  • Education and skills for young people aged 14–19:
    What works well for young people at this stage of learning and what areas could be improved upon? 
  • Educational migration – the ‘brain drain’ in Northern Ireland:
    How can we better understand why so many young people leave Northern Ireland for university and do not return? 


We will continue to support young people and other under–represented members of the community to contribute to evidence–based policy making. Pivotal’s upcoming projects will actively consult young people and other key stakeholders to better understand their experiences of issues related to educational migration and gaps in skills and training Northern Ireland.  

Please contact info@pivotalppf.org if you would like to get involved in any of our upcoming projects.

More Information

  • Date

    Tue 16 Feb


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