Co-designing a more youth-led funding process

We worked with Young Start to give young people real influence in funding decisions - trialling the concept as we went
A pile of application forms for Young Start funding on a desk with pens and pencils

The Young Start programme funds youth-led organisations that put young people front and centre in their work. 

The fund’s outcomes are for children and young people to have: 


  1. Better physical, mental and emotional wellbeing
  2. Better connections with the wider community
  3. Access to training opportunities to build skills that will help them to get a new job or start a business

“When we get to see the work of young people, it’s the best part of our job.” 

Internal stakeholder | The National Lottery Community Fund 

Working with young people remotely

The project was initially set up before COVID-19 changed the landscape of doing collaborative work. We had to work closely with the client to adapt the timeline and delivery schedule, so that the entire project could take place remotely. 

There were some distinct benefits – and challenges – that resulted from working this way. 

On one hand, we were able to involve a wide range of young people from across urban and rural Scotland with none of the logistics and cost involved in getting everyone to and from these locations. 

On the other hand, some young people weren’t keen to join an evening workshop after a whole day doing schooling or work online. 

So we started asking participants to complete tasks before workshops to capture wider insights. This was not only helpful for those who weren’t as active in workshops, but for those who weren’t able to attend at all. 

We asked about what makes young people feel comfortable in an online environment and adapted our approach to meet their needs.


Relationship-building with a core team of young people

We worked with a small team of young people throughout the project and invited them to regular meetings to share our work. These meetings usually happened in between sessions where they could drop in when they liked. They helped us plan workshops, define agendas and share reflections. 

We developed strong relationships with some of them, who came to feel like key members of our Snook team. Others drifted away after the introductory workshop and we reflected on how we could have stayed in touch with the broader team as part of our post-project learnings to help Young Start sustain these relationships.

Re-imagining incentives

It was important that all the young people who participated in the project were given appropriate incentives for their work. We know from research that engagement can sometimes feel tokentistic. We had to think creatively about what we offered for their time and energy. 

In addition to e-shopping vouchers (that could be used during lockdown), we offered our core group time with a Snook team member to use how they liked. We gave advice and guidance around working in a professional environment, as well as practical support building a Linkedin profile and CV. 

All participants in the core group received a testimonial from Snook, outlining their experience and emphasising their particular skills and enthusiasms. Our aim was to increase confidence, communication skills and lead to career development opportunities, so their involvement in the project results in real benefits.


Our process

We used tools like Miro (an online whiteboard for remote collaboration), to help with the internal kickoff. We heard from funding teams about user journeys and where they felt the biggest pain points were. We also used this time to set clear parameters, understand constraints, goals and anti-goals: the unshiftable elements of the fund that we could not influence. 

After our initial kick off, we held a session with internal stakeholders to further explore a high level journey map of the end to end process. This was key in helping us understand back office processes and staff needs.

From previous research about the funding process, four opportunity areas were identified, that young people could have influence over: 

– Outreach and events

– The application process

– Decision-making

– Monitoring and evaluation 

These were our ‘pots to play within’ and helped narrow the focus of the workshops. 

Our first workshop was with young people aged 20+ and supporting adults who worked in youth organisations. 

Most of the participants had experience of applying for a grant before. We heard about their dream funding process and where they felt the most impactful areas for youth-led change were at the fund. 

We synthesised user needs across both groups and developed some hypothesis statements to bring into the next workshop. 

In our second workshop, we worked in small groups to develop concepts around the application and decision-making parts of the process. 

After this, we synthesised insights and were able to create some rough prototypes that were based on key hypotheses.

The four concepts we tested were: 

  1. A funding criteria checklist 
  2. A list of media for young people to share their ideas
  3. Video guidance on ‘how to apply for funding’
  4. A young person panel to review applications and decide who gets funding

We shared these early ideas with the Young Start team during a project break. We were keen to give stakeholders an opportunity to contribute to the ideas and understand whether they saw potential in them. This was incredibly helpful. We received comprehensive feedback which we used in preparing for our final workshop, and the development of key concepts and roadmaps.

“Loads of energy and buy-in from all at Snook. Seeing how much you really cared about it made the team excited, and made the experience better for everyone and the young people.”

Alastair Jackson | Communications Manager | The National Lottery Community Fund

No silver bullet: we developed multiple concepts and roadmaps to take forward

The client didn’t expect a single solution that would fix everything. As we moved through the project, four key concepts were developed by young people and internal staff.

Concept 1: A checklist to understand whether a project fits the funding 

We explored the benefits of creating a checklist/survey so groups can find out if their idea is the right fit for the Young Start fund before they start a longer application process. This saves time for both the applicant and the fund.


Concept 2: Different ways to upload an application

This provides the option to submit an application with a media format that suits the applicant’s skill set, meaning they are able to showcase themselves, their team and project in a variety of ways. 

We explored different ways of uploading and sharing ideas in our workshops. Some young people enjoyed writing but many expressed a preference for video. This would be one element of a larger application process.


Concept 3. “How-to” tutorials to help people to apply

This helps applicants understand what they need to include and how to submit an application. We heard that young people need better guidance and instructions, so they felt confident in making a submission themselves. Video tutorials were suggested, with a preference for step-by-step instructions on how to go through the process.


Concept 4. A group of young people coming together to make decisions 

Young people would like to see more activities across the funding process with a higher ratio of young people to adults. They’d like to be represented through all stages of the fund: outreach, events, communication, application, grant-giving and learning and evaluation.

In our final workshop, we explored the characteristics of the panel, such as building trust and creating comfortable spaces so that young people can share thoughts and opinions. 



Defining the principles of a youth-led panel

  • Welcoming – Open to all and co-creating ways of working together
  • Flexible – Able to meet the needs of both young people and senior panel members 
  • Meaningful – Young people see the impact of their involvement and gain opportunities
  • Ongoing – Further learning and training opportunities result from involvement 

This would span across the whole funding journey and has the potential to give young people real influence in funding decisions. 

Throughout the project, we were effectively trialling this concept and testing how young people and adults collaborated in the workshops.

Looking ahead: Continuing to work with young people 

We delivered a final report outlining the key concepts and how they connect to user needs. For each of them, we asked the client to capture what the team members and resources needed to take the ideas forward. In addition, we created a high-level roadmap and two detailed road maps to support. We separated these into three categories of action: 

Now – Straightforward changes that can be actioned immediately 

Next – Top priority for the next piece of work 

Beyond – Aligns with the strategy – more than 6 months away 

In our high-level roadmap, the top priority actions were to: 

– Maintain relationships with young people

– Further test and detail the end-to-end process of a young person’s panel

– Re-imagine applications and guidance. 

To support these steps, we created two roadmaps: 

Roadmap 1: Further test and detail the end-to-end process of a young person’s panel

Benefits to the organisation: Having young people in the lead aligns with the strategy and principles of the Young Start fund. 

This roadmap outlined the different types of engagement needed to continue to work with a core group of young people. We outlined a workshop series with the goal of furthering their understanding of how the panel would work across the funding process. 

Roadmap 2: Re-imagining applications and guidance 

Benefits to the organisation: Improved design will lead to better quality applications. 

This roadmap outlines the next steps around developing the ‘quick fix’ concepts further, for example planning a session focused on unpacking the current application process in detail and building on the “How to video guidance” prototype.