Do rules set by the group work?

Having a bit of a blogging block this morning so trawled back in the annals of the history of the musing of the Youthblog and discovered this post. Back in 2008 I asked for some suggestions and I haven’t answered all of them yet, so as part of this ‘rapid response’ *cough* service, here’s one of those questions:
Do rules set by the group work?
My answer, yes!
There we go, job done and only 3 years late!
But as there has been a BIT of a wait, let me put some flesh on that answer.
I actually think this is THE best way to go but having said that it must flow from relationship and trust. It also works best when there is some sort of framework to make it happen AND it is a mutual negotiation that has implications for the team too.
This is one of my favourite ways of negotiating the rules and boundaries (no claim to originality, I came across it in a statutory youth work context years ago).
Gather group and team together. (Remembering to be aware of power dynamics, eg not having team sitting above the young people but with and alongside). Give the conversation some context talking about who the group are, why it exists, why the volunteers give up their time to make it happen. Use open questions and listen to the group as to what the like/don’t like about the group. Build trust.
Introduce the idea that the group needs to be safe, welcoming and a good place to be and how it might help to talk about some values and rules.
Here’s the technique that I was alluding too.
Grab a flipchart pad and draw a triangle that doesn’t fill the entire sheet. At one corner write “The venue” (or similar) at another, “The Leaders” and at the last, “The group!”
(If you still have a corner left, you’ve done it wrong)
Then the task is to add what we believe the rules, values and expectations are.
Starting with the building or venue gives a chance to cover some of the ‘rules’ that are imposed already, eg ‘No Smoking’ and ‘Areas that are off limits” etc
Then a free ranging conversation from team and young people about the things that leaders and young people are looking for. If you have built trust then this is a great conversation and will produce rules and expectations for all …… and some requirements for you as team like, ‘not shouting’ or ‘not assuming what happened’
When each of these rules or expectations are agreed, they should be written at the relevant point of the triangle.
You can then also talk about what the group believe the sanctions should be for not living by the agreed code (this take sanctions out of the realm of being arbitrary adult punishment, and instead, agreed action)
negotiation of rules.jpg
At this point EVERYONE (team included) signs the outer edge of the sheet to agree the rules. This is a powerful endorsement of the process and the outcome. Putting the page up on the wall is also useful and young people will often refer to it.
This is only one process, not the answer
The group setting the rules though, yes I believe it works … as long as it is based on trust, relationship and genuine exploration, oh and it is truly democratic in that it has implications and accountability for the leaders and the young people.
Feel free to post other ideas and experiments ….

2 Replies to “Do rules set by the group work?”

  1. I don’t know if you know this, but this was precisely the approach that Clive Woodward took when taking over management of the England Rugby Team; the players set the rules and they were thus accepted by all. Especially the rule that no-one was late for a team meeting (often a major problem in the past, I gather…)
    It seems to me that treating people as responsible and involved in the process of establishing the rules is always likely to be successful in creating a natural respect for the rules.
    I think this is even more true for teenagers, who respond very positively to being treated as the adults they are becoming.
    My one question though is at what age this approach becomes valuable?

  2. Ian,
    Thanks for the comment … and the question.
    I reckon this can be used right down to 8 year olds by adapting the language and the process. Primary education involves project, discovery and group learning so it’s in their realm already.
    The interesting thing with younger ones is that they come up with harsher punishment and sometimes stricter rules)
    I’ve used it mainly with 11-13’s and 14 plus though.
    (oh and Youth work students)
    I think too this is about attitude.
    If you do it just because it’s a good technique its no where near as good as where you genuinely believe that we will do a better job of this together.

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