How One Museum Amplified Youth Voice with a Teen Advisory Board
Sarah Carr, Director of Advancement and Public Engagement at Rhode Island Historical Society, started her journey with the RIHS nearly eight years ago as the Education & Program Coordinator for the RIHS’s Museum of Work & Culture. Sarah and her colleagues recognized that the surrounding community had grown and changed over the past decade, becoming increasingly diverse. The RIHS team knew they had to work to cultivate lasting trust.
Sarah knew that one powerful way to build trust was to create meaningful opportunities for young people in the community to thrive in the museum space. And this insight – combined with her experience in youth programming and a deep appreciation of the power of youth voice and feedback – ultimately led to the development of the RIHS Teen Advisory Board.
The Teen Advisory Board started as a group of 5 students working with only one museum department. As of December 2022, there are 22 students elected to a self-governing advisory board, operating under by-laws and making tangible contributions to organization-wide outcomes.
So how did they get there?
As the number of student board members grew, recruitment became less of a challenge. Students felt ownership over that process and shared the opportunity with peers and teachers.
Students also advised on the application process and helped develop a strategy for electing members. Sarah collaborated with the advisory board to make the application process transparent and accessible to their peers.
Structure and Operations
The Teen Board operates as a self-governing body with support and guidance from Sarah. They have a committee structure – an executive committee, a standing communications committee, and ad hoc committees for special projects and initiatives. And they have created a separate branch of ‘Teen Ambassadors’ for students who can’t commit to the board but want to be engaged.
The board has a monthly meeting held virtually, and before each meeting, the board president writes the agenda and meets with Sarah to discuss agenda items and priorities. A museum staff member is always present at the meetings, but the teens lead the discussion.
Advisory Board Responsibilities
Improved Products + Services
Students’ volunteer role at museum events was to pitch membership and other support opportunities to community participants. The students were incredibly successful at cultivating support, in large part, Sarah believes, because of this clear demonstration of leadership and commitment to the institution from young people. She believes there is a significant opportunity to build on that foundation in the future.
The Teen Advisory Board is a genuine commitment. From the application and election process to the by-laws and structured monthly meetings, students operate as a largely independent and self-governing body, with guidance and support from Sarah and the team. They work together to decide on priorities, make strategic planning decisions, and build consensus while navigating their academics and social life. It is an experience that will help them prepare for work and life in the future.
The Lessons Learned
Think Long Term
Teen Advisory Board Application
RIHS used Google Forms to create a straightforward application. Check out the Teen Advisory Board Application on Google Forms here.
Creating Youth Advisory Council
Are you think about creating a Youth Advisory Council at your institution? Use this Youth Advisory Council guide as a way to start the conversation with your team.
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