Youth participation includes a wide variety of practices such as civic education of young people, volunteering and community activism. The survey wanted to focus only on forms of participation which aim to support and enable young people to influence political or public body decision making;
To develop the descriptions for each form, it drew on the work of Gretschel et al. (2014) who
propose five broad forms of participation in regional and local democracy. The five forms of youth participation used in the survey are:
- Youth councils, youth parliaments, youth boards, and other formal structures: these are bodies whose role is to represent the views of young people to decision-makers. Young people usually become members or representatives of the body and participate in the group on an ongoing basis. They are sometimes elected by other young people or nominated by youth organizations. Youth councils or parliaments can represent a geographic area, such as a city or a country when engaging with public authorities within that area. Youth boards can be linked to a single organization such as a school or an NGO and focus on the work of that organization.
- Co-management and co-production: these are forms where young people and adults jointly take decisions about the running of a public organization or project. Co-management is when a group of young people and adults work collaboratively, sharing power to manage and run an institution or organization on an ongoing basis. An example of this is the Council of Europe’s Joint Council on Youth where young people and government representatives jointly decide the Council of Europe youth sector’s priorities, objectives, and budget envelopes. Co-production is when a group of young people and adults work collaboratively, sharing power to undertake a task until that task is complete. Examples of such tasks could be writing a strategy, conducting research, evaluating a public service, or running a project.
- Deliberative youth participation: this form aims to include young people from all backgrounds in public debate and dialogue about a decision or group of decisions, to influence the way they are taken. This often takes place as a one-off event or series of events. A young person may participate in all or part of the discussions. There is a clear end to the process where a position on the decision or topic is reached, and the outcome of the discussion is agreed upon. Emphasis is placed on the detailed discussion so that the young people who take part can thoroughly consider the topic. The young people who take part should be from diverse backgrounds and all social groups of the population. The outcomes of the dialogue are often directly fed to a public authority or another body with responsibility for the decision being discussed. Good quality deliberative youth participation should influence the decision being debated.
- Youth activism and protest: this form is related to young people’s involvement in campaigning groups and democratic protest as a means of influencing public decision making. Campaigning groups and protest groups are often focused on a single issue or cause and will seek to campaign for political change around that cause. They are independent of public authorities and the state and may not be only for young people. Young people’s involvement can be linked-to organizations, for instance, political parties, trade unions, and NGOs, who may seek to mobilize young people as activists for their cause. In other cases, loose associations of activists may self-mobilize non-formally around a common cause and identity such as the Occupy Movement or the Arab Spring.
- Young people’s digital participation: digital participation can take many forms. In this study, we use the term to mean the use of the Internet, social media and mobile technology to connect young people to decision-makers to influence the decisions in public authorities and other bodies. Digital participation can exist alongside other forms of participation in the same project or just in the online realm. Digital participation can be initiated by institutions seeking to reach out to young people, for example through the use of opinion polls, consultations or crowdsourcing ideas. Digital participation can also be initiated by young people, where online tools are used to gather support for campaigns, or information from young people, which is then presented to decision-makers, for example through the use of online petitions.
Around the contextual nature of the term “innovative”, the study confirms the importance of
recognizing that the nature of innovation is a relative, context-specific term. So whilst a local youth council may be relatively commonplace and considered non-innovative in a country where there is a long tradition of local youth councils, it may very well be seen as a new and innovative form of practice in another country where the historical legacy is different.
Results of the survey
Which forms of participation are seen as the most innovative?
For each of the five forms of participation, survey participants were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed with the statement: ‘This form of participation would be considered innovative in the geographic area I work in’.
‘Digital participation’, ‘deliberative participation’ and ‘co-management and co-production’ are the three forms of participation that stakeholders see as more innovative. ‘Youth councils and similar structures’ or ‘youth activism and protest’ are seen as less innovative forms of participation by stakeholders who took part in the survey.
Are innovative forms less common?
‘Co-management and co-production’ and ‘deliberative participation’ are noticeably less common at all levels than the other forms of participation. ‘Youth councils and similar structures’ are generally seen as the most common form of participation at a local level. At national and regional levels, the distributions of ‘youth activism and protest’, ‘youth councils and similar structures’ and ‘digital participation’ are all broadly similar.
If innovation is connected to the idea of a new form of practice, we should expect that the most innovative form is the least commonplace. Broadly speaking, stakeholder views support this idea. The two more innovative forms of youth participation, ‘co-management and co-production’ and ‘deliberative participation’ were seen as the least common.
However, in contrast, the third more innovative form ‘digital participation’, is seen as relatively common. This may relate to the capability of digital platforms to engage large numbers of young people.
Barriers and enablers to public authorities being open to innovative forms of participation
Survey participants were asked about factors that work as barriers or enablers for public authorities and other bodies being more open to engaging with different forms of participation.
Highest rated barriers
The three most highly rated barriers for ‘youth councils and similar structures’ and ‘co-management and co-production’ are identified as:
► ‘Lack of funds and resources’;
► ‘Lack of political support’;
► ‘This form is not properly understood by public authorities’.
‘Deliberative participation’ shared the same top three barriers, but public authorities do not see this form as an effective way to influence decisions’ was tied for third place.
‘Digital participation’s’ top three barriers were similar again, though interestingly ‘lack of funds and resources’ was ranked much lower. Overall the top three barriers to digital participation are identified as:
► ‘Lack of political support’;
► ‘This form is not properly understood by public authorities’;
► ‘Public authorities do not see this form as an effective way to influence decisions’.
In contrast, the top three barriers to ‘youth activism and protest’ were different from all other forms:
► ‘Public authorities do not see this form of participation as legitimate’;
► ‘Public authorities see this form of participation as threatening’;
► ‘Public authorities prefer other, more traditional forms of youth participation’.
Highest rated enablers
As with the barriers, the enablers were almost consistent across the forms except ‘youth activism and protest’.
The top three factors that were thought to enable public authorities to be open to ‘youth council and similar structures’, ‘co-management and co-production’ and ‘deliberative participation’ were the same, that is:
► ‘Increased political support for this form of participation’;
► ‘Increased awareness of this form by public authorities and other bodies’;
► ‘Increased acceptance of this form by public authorities and other bodies’.
‘Digital participation’ produced a similar response but ‘a greater understanding of how this form can be used to influence decision making in public authorities’ displaced ‘increased awareness of this form by public authorities and other bodies’.
As with the barriers, the enablers for ‘youth activism and protest’ followed a different pattern to other forms. However, there was some overlap. The top three enablers to this form were:
► ‘Increased desire to listen to young people from decision-makers in general’;
► ‘Increased acceptance of this form of participation by public authorities and other bodies’;
► ‘Greater understanding of how this form can be used to influence’ decision making in public authorities.
Do innovative forms influence decision making more than other forms?
The results show that the effectiveness of all forms at influencing decision making is generally seen as very similar. The only statistically significant difference is between the highest and lowest-ranked forms ‘co-management and co-production’ and ‘digital participation’.
Are innovative forms more effective at including young people with fewer opportunities?
The analysis of responses identified substantial variation in responses to this question. There was no real consensus from stakeholders about how effective each form is at the practice of inclusion. This suggests that the ability of a participation project or program to include young people from a range of backgrounds and circumstances is not seen as connected to the particular form of participation used. This finding supports the idea that any form of participation could be made to be either more inclusive or exclusive depending on how it is implemented. This is an interesting finding given that it is sometimes argued that formalized structures such as youth councils can be exclusive. Similarly, it is sometimes argued that digital participation has the potential to reach out to young people with fewer opportunities. Stakeholder views seem to support neither of these positions.
Can innovative forms be replicated more easily?
There was a significant difference between the way stakeholders saw ‘Digital youth participation’ and all other forms – they clearly viewed it as easier to replicate than all other forms. Whilst ‘Youth activism and protest’ was rated on average as easier to replicate than the other three forms, the difference in rating was not statistically significant. Overall, we cannot
say that the three forms identified as more innovative (shown in red) are consistently seen as easier or harder to replicate than the less innovative forms.
Stakeholders clearly identified youth councils, youth forums, youth parliaments, and similar structures along with ‘youth activism and protest’ as the less innovative forms of youth participation. Co-management, co-production, deliberative participation, digital participation and potentially the use of participatory ‘spaces’ represent the innovative, cutting edge of the sector. Stakeholders tell us that some of the things inhibiting the development of innovative forms of youth participation are the lack of political support and a lack of understanding and awareness of them and their potential to shape decisions by public bodies. It is interesting that ‘funds and resources’ are identified as a barrier to their development but not necessarily as an enabler. This could be interpreted as meaning that although the amount of resource allocated
might limit the number of projects, innovating youth participation is about encouraging public bodies and decision-makers to embrace and understand its role rather than just resourcing it. However, these barriers are not seen by stakeholders as specific to innovation. Instead, they apply to youth participation in decision making more generally. The enablers and barriers to innovative forms identified by stakeholders were almost the same as for youth councils and other similar structures. It should not be assumed that innovative forms of practice are any better than less innovative ones. In the view of stakeholders, they are no more or less effective than the traditional approaches to supporting youth participation. This is a key finding from the survey. This means innovation should not be seen as the end goal for youth participation; rather as a means to an end. Doing something new or differently does not necessarily mean that it will be done better. To be useful to youth participation, innovation must be linked to the concept of improvement. New ideas and methodologies need to be tested to see if they improve on previous methods.
Why did I choose this tool?
Trainers’ knowledge of youth participation, traditional and new forms of youth participation, is an important aspect for personal awareness and when working with other learners. The results from the survey are relevant for learning and sharing so young learners become more aware and think about their choice of participation.
What has been your role in empowering youth participation? Would you characterize it as “traditional” or “new”? Why?
How do you see the trainer’s role in empowering youth to engage in “new” forms of participation?
Which forms of participation you feel are most relevant in your community?
- What has been your role in empowering youth participation? Would you characterize it as “traditional” or “new”? Why?
- How do you see the trainer’s role in empowering youth to engage in “new” forms of participation?
- Which forms of participation you feel are most relevant in your community?