Bringing youth perspectives to policy discussions

MyVoice is passionate about asking questions–we survey over 1,500 youth from across the United States in weekly, text message surveys. For a change of pace, MyVoice leader and amateur Twitch commentator, Tammy Chang, sat down with the Institute of Health Policy and Innovation to answer some questions about MyVoice.

Here’s an excerpt from their interview. Read the full conversation here.

How did the idea for MyVoice come about?
My colleagues and I were frustrated with the slow pace of traditional research and the impact we’re able to have through it. Often, from the time you collect data, analyze it, write up a study and get it published, it can take five, six years or more. A lot of my work focuses on the health issues facing adolescents, who often grow into adults before we’re able to do anything with the data they’ve provided. That’s unacceptable.

Today, we have technology that can operate in real time, and can help us collect and analyze information in a timely way, and then disseminate it to the people who need it: researchers, policymakers, and youth-serving organizations. And that’s the motivation behind MyVoice – to transform the way that research can inform policy, by working at the pace of policymaking.

As a family physician and someone who studies the health and well-being of young people, you know this age group quite well. What’s surprised you about what about what they have to say about health issues and what’s important to them?
We are shocked and surprised every single time we pose a question to our participants. Every single time. They express thoughts and opinions that we never could have anticipated, and they reveal nuances and complexities about issues that we never would have realized from our perspective. I think that demonstrates the importance of giving them a voice, and they’ve told us this is one of the biggest reasons they participate – that they’ve never before been asked what they think about these issues, and that they like feeling like they have some control over the decisions and policies that are affecting them.

How is MyVoice being used to inform ongoing policy discussions and decisions around resources and programs that affect youth?
Our team works proactively to understand the important policy topics that may be coming down the pike by reaching out to people in those circles to learn which issues could benefit from additional youth insight. We meet with legislators and their staff sat all levels of government to ensure we’re connecting their needs for information with what we can offer through our research platform. We partner with policymakers and other youth-serving organizations, including HHS and the National Academy of Medicine, to provide a youth perspective in their reports and decision-making processes. When there are opportunities to provide testimony or comments on proposed legislation, we can provide that youth voice with fairly rapid turnaround. As one example, last year MyVoice contributed to proposed legislation in Massachusetts related to restrictions on diet pills and muscle-building supplements among youth. MyVoice has also been used to inform policies at the local level here in Washtenaw County.

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