Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, inequality and youth participation

The American news media and the blogosphere are filled with talk of inequality right now. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest in New York City has spread across the country, and the release last week of a report on income inequality from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has given some support to OWS protesters’ complaints about public policies that favor the rich. The CBO report indicates that while income in the Unites States has grown for everyone over the past three decades, it has grown far faster for the richest Americans. For the bottom quintile of American wage earners, income has increased just 18 percent since 1979, while income for the top 1 percent of earners has increased by a whopping 275 percent! According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, virtually all of the decline in the bottom 80 percent’s share of the nation’s income is reflected in an increase for the top 1 percent.

Such inequality is possible in the United States because of policy decisions made by those we elect to represent us—choices about what and what not to regulate. These policies and the resulting upward redistribution of wealth in the U.S. over the past thirty years have happened because we allowed them to happen.

Our system of representative democracy means citizens only need participate if we are interested enough to do so. We can influence the decisions of those we elect to represent us, run for office ourselves or get involved in issues that are important to us. Or we can choose not to participate.

This voluntary system assumes, however, that we all know how to participate, and that we all believe that our participation will make a difference. For many Americans, however, this assumption is not accurate. Public schools teach us about government but they don’t provide us with many opportunities to practice participatory skills like speaking at public hearings, working on a campaign for an issue or candidate, circulating petitions or working with community members to solve real-world problems. Schools also don’t provide us with access to people with influence, such as community leaders, business groups and politicians. Students usually spend more time analyzing literature and historical events than debating the pros and cons of current political issues.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Youth participation and social networks

K-12 education in the U.S. is designed to transmit to our young people the knowledge and skills that our society deems important. Community-based youth development programs are often designed to teach knowledge and skills that are not addressed in school, and sometimes to give young people experiences that take them out of their neighborhoods into the wider world. But knowledge and skill development are still the goals. But if one of our larger social goals is to expand opportunity rather than perpetuating inequality, schools and community-based youth development programs must focus more explicitly on helping young people build their social networks.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guardians and Pathways

By interesting coincidence, a couple of reports relating to civic participation were released on September 15 in different parts of the world. First, a collaborative in the United Kingdom called Pathways through Participation released a report called “Pathways through Participation: What creates and sustains active citizenship?” A few hours later, as part of the 2011 National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) in Philadelphia, “Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools” was released by a partnership that included NCoC, The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools and CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Monday, July 18, 2011

USAID gets advice from Tanzanian youth

In June, Restless Development facilitated a USAID consultation with 13 Tanzanian youth on the development of a new USAID youth policy. The young people asked for less "one-off" training, and more ongoing support for skill development. The young people also argued for more involvement of youth in development, implementation and monitoring of aid services, and that the services should be more accessible to young people. They also asked for more support for their efforts to educate adults on the importance of youth participation.

These Tanzanian youth asked USAID to recognize young people as experts on their own needs and priorities, and not just as the beneficiaries of services.

Youth Consultation with USAID

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Student voice reading list

Involver has a great list up today of research on student voice. It's very U.K.-centric, but still a great resource to anyone interested in the topic.

Student voice reading list

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Youth engagement as a social change strategy

The Forum for Youth Investment sends out a periodic "Ready Thoughts" email blast from its "Ready by 21" campaign. Today's email was about involving students in decisions about their own education.

The Forum is encouraging communities to use the Gallup Student Poll as a starting point for conversations with students about how their schools could be improved. According to poll results, only 50% of students report that they are engaged in school, and engagement declines with each grade.

The Forum article argues that while youth engagement is important for individual student achievement, it can also serve as an important strategy for social change because engaged students become engaged adults. A study by the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing indicates that engaged students are more likely to become effective advocates for change in their communities by volunteering for political organizations, canvassing, contacting public officials, holding meetings about issues that are important to them and attempting to solve community problems.

This is an important argument for engaging young people in decision-making. When dealing with youth-serving nonprofits and educators, I've often heard the argument that "I'd like to do this but there are just too many other things to get done." Things like helping drop-outs get back in school and helping disadvantaged youth get job training and graduate are clearly important. But these are challenges that exist disproportionately among poor and working-class youth, and they will never really be met unless we think bigger.

Young people need to learn how to advocate for their own needs and those of their families and communities. But if we don't ever allow them to identify problems and recommend solutions--especially in an area like education, in which they have daily, firsthand experience--they may never develop the skills to effect change and the confidence to do so. Affluent communities stay that way because their members know how to advocate for their own needs. Deliberate efforts to engage disadvantaged youth in problem-solving and decision-making can help them become engaged adults who can advocate for their communities' needs too.

Youth Engagement = Student Success

Monday, June 6, 2011

Leeds City Museum receives award for youth participation

Much of the emphasis in youth participation work is on providing opportunities for young people to contribute to decisions about social services. Here's a great example of youth participation in the context of a cultural facility in Leeds, United Kingdom.

The Leeds City Museum was recently awarded the first-ever Hear By Right Bronze Award from the National Youth Agency. The Hear by Right Award was established in 2010 to recognize organizations that take youth participation seriously and highlight the contributions of the young people they work with.

The Leeds City Museum worked with The Youth Association (TYA) to meaningfully involve young people in assessing the museum and making recommendations. TYA also helped to facilitate a workshop between the young people and the museum's management to embed participation into the culture of the museum. The museum established a steering group of young people from all ages and backgrounds, called "the Preservative Party." Members attend the museum as "mystery shoppers" and provide input into strategic planning decisions.

"Embedding youth participation into the development of museums is vital to ensure they are relevant to young people," said Fiona Blacke, National Youth Agency chief executive.

Update: Forgot the link! 
Award Proves Youth Participation is More Than Just Talk for Leeds City Museum

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ontario seeks youth input on Youth Policy Framework

The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services is developing a new Youth Policy Framework to guide its work in youth development, and the Ministry's Youth Development Committee is seeking input from young people through its "Where's Your Voice At?" campaign. Young people in Ontario can participate through an online survey, online dialogs or in-person dialogs being held all over the province between now and June 12.

Local youth-serving organizations and youth groups can also host their own youth dialogs using the ministry's "workshop in a box," which includes a policy literacy toolkit and PowerPoint presentation, a set of dialog questions and related activities, and a participant workbook.

The downloadable resources--especially the policy toolkit--are great resources that could be adapted by other organizations and agencies seeking to involve young people in guiding policy, whether in youth development or any other area.

Where's Your Voice At?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Humboldt County gives transition-aged foster youth a voice

Young people transitioning out of foster care at age 18 or 19 face a difficult road. As they leave an unstable childhood, many of the services provided to minors are no longer available to them. Yet as adults they are often totally alone and without guidance. Phillip Crandall, Director of the Humboldt County (California) Department of Health and Human Services, writes that former foster youth are more likely than others their age to end up incarcerated, unemployed and/or homeless. But Humboldt County offers an illustration of how transition-aged youth themselves can help ensure that county services designed to assist them are effective.

In 2008 Humboldt County established the Humboldt County Transition Age Youth Collaboration (HCTAYC) with the goal of building "an effective, responsive, and youth-informed system of care for transition-age foster youth." The HCTAYC advised the county that real youth engagement meant more than a seat at the table. It meant the county needed to change its culture to one that encouraged and respected youth voices in meetings and decision-making. It meant creating an environment in which youth were viewed as partners.

Since 2008 the HCTAYC has developed policy recommendations to improve mental health services for transition-age youth at the county's psychiatric health facility, children's center and crisis line, and testified before the State Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care. The county's mental health board now includes two youth members. HCTAYC also provides training in leadership and decision-making to other youth, and members attend state and national conferences to develop their skills and increase their knowledge of policies that affect children and youth.

The HCTAYC website includes some excellent resources, including "Committing to Youth Engagement: Creating an Environment that Encourages and Respects Youth Voices in Meetings and Decision-Making," which briefly covers many best practices for youth participation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bhutanese student proposes national youth policy

A 21-year-old Bhutanese student studying in New Delhi has submitted a proposal to the Bhutanese cabinet recommending the creation of a national youth policy. Vishma Rai, a second-year computer science student, wants "a logical and evidence-based approach to delivering programs for the Bhutanese youth." The policy would define young people as a distinct sub-group of the population and, according to Vishma, would provide young people with a way to influence policymakers. Although almost 59% of Bhutan's population is under the age of 24, they are excluded from decision-making.

Vishma is also suggesting other youth-oriented institutions such as a Bhutanese youth parliament and a youth think tank.

Article: A proposal by a young Bhutanese

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Providing opportunities for youth to participate in democracy

This piece was published as a guest commentary in today's Denver Post, under the title "Getting our youth to participate in democracy." Here's a link to the commentary. 

How do Americans learn to participate in democracy? If you answered “civics class” you get partial credit.

Most school districts, including DPS [Denver Public Schools], require one semester of civics for graduation. Students learn about the structure and functions of government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. But a recent report from the Carnegie Corporation, which funded the Colorado Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools between 2005-2007, indicates that because of increasing demands for accountability focused mainly on math and literacy, students have few opportunities to develop and practice civic skills such as identifying a problem, gathering evidence, reviewing and debating possible strategies and collaborating on solutions. They almost never learn the critical skill of budgeting.

Young people living in disadvantaged communities with lots of problems to solve have the most to gain by learning such skills. But if their schools can’t provide opportunities to acquire those skills, what other options do they have?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The school I'd like

The Guardian in the U.K. is running a series called "The School I'd Like," which asked British students for their ideas about how to make school better. Most of the students who responded are in the primary grades, and much of what they want is pie-in-the-sky, but there are also some thoughtful, sensible suggestions. Many of the suggestions reflect children's understandable frustration at being treated like, well, children. Joshua Kennedy, age 11, wrote:
"The children of the modern day are getting more and more rights such as having the right to say their opinion, and this is mine....[Y]ou should be allowed to say what you think to the teacher without being criticised or given a detention."
There is some evidence that schools are encouraging more participation, and that students are being heard. According to Hannah Scott, age 10,
"They do ask what we'd like sometimes. When we were getting a new teacher, we had a lesson from three teachers and we were asked which one we liked the best. They did choose her, so they listened to us."
The Guardian worked with a panel of ten children to develop a manifesto based on the submissions they received. The Guardian will share the manifesto with opinion leaders and ask for their feedback.

You can find the whole series, including an introduction to the panel and the 2011 manifesto, as well as the manifesto from a similar project conducted ten years ago, here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New report on young people's participation in planning and urban regeneration

Ecorys, a U.K. research firm, in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, have just published a report documenting their study of existing research on youth participation in planning and urban regeneration in the U.K. The authors examined a range of participation practices and determined that the most successful practices had a number of factors in common:
  1. Official recognition of children’s fundamental rights;
  2. Broad-based and inclusive partnerships;
  3. Political and cultural sensitivity;
  4. "Child-friendly" planning processes and structures;
  5. Support from skilled intermediaries;
  6. A range of participation methods;
  7. Understanding participation as a process of learning and change;
  8. Openness and reciprocal learning between children and adults;
  9. An incremental and realistic approach;
  10. Visibility in the results; and
  11. Embedding at different levels and spatial scales.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Youth participation sampler added to Leading Now resource page

I just posted a "Youth Participation Sampler" to the Leading Now website. The sampler describes several approaches to youth participation that are being used successfully around the world, along with some brief examples. The sampler can be used as an introduction for communities or organizations that are considering youth participation.

The sampler can be found on the "Examples of Youth Participation" page, along with some slightly more in-depth descriptions of models being used in India, Brazil, New Zealand, England and the United States.

Solomon Islands planning provincial summits on youth mainstreaming

On April 27-29 the Solomon Islands Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs and the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) Pacific Centre conducted a workshop for the Ministry’s youth development officers in preparation for a series of upcoming Youth Mainstreaming Summits to be held in each of the country's nine provinces and Honiara City. The workshops are being planned as a result of the Solomon Islands Cabinet's endorsement of a revised Solomon Islands National Youth Policy in 2010. The theme of the workshops will be "Youth Mainstreaming -- Making a difference in Youth Policy Implementation."

A press release from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet describes youth mainstreaming as
"the concept that all organizations, including government youth ministries, non government organizations, civil society, faith based and all development organizations that include an aspect of youth development in their work, must include youth in their plans and activities, and must align their work to their country’s National Youth Policy framework and national development strategies."
 According to CYP Pacific Centre Regional Director Afu Billy,
"Including young people in all aspects of national development -- including in economic, political, cultural and social areas -- is key to ensuring that young people can fully participate in national efforts to increase economic growth, achieve good governance, improve security and stability and achieve sustainable development."

CYP Pacific and MWYCA focus on youth mainstreaming

Monday, May 2, 2011

United Nations high-level meeting on youth, July 25-26 2011

As part of the International Year of Youth, the UN General Assembly will host a high-level meeting on youth on July 25 and 26, 2011. The theme of the meting is “Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,”and it will include roundtable discussions on:
  1. Strengthening international cooperation regarding youth and enhancing dialogue, mutual understanding and active youth participation as indispensable elements towards achieving social integration, full employment and the eradication of poverty; and
  2. Challenges to youth development and opportunities for poverty eradication, employment and sustainable development.
Registration and other information can be found here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BYC establishes Local Councillor Shadowing Award

The British Youth Council has established a new program that allows young people to acquire credit that can be used for educational or job skills certification by shadowing a local councilor for ten hours. The BYC provides a handbook to local authorities that explains how the program works and includes activities that might be of interest to both the councilor and the young person. The handbook explains how to log the young person's activities to ensure s/he receives credit, and includes advice on recruitment of young people and working with the media.

The BYC also provides a log book for young people to track their activities and learning. The log book explains the program and includes sample activities, a partnership agreement, exercises and reflection activities that the young person can complete to help him/her get the most out of the shadowing experience.

This award program is a great way to help local officials connect to young people in their community (that could easily be replicated elsewhere), and it provides an opportunity for young people to learn a great deal about how local government works that would be difficult to learn in a classroom setting.

For more information and to download the handbook and log book, visit the BYC page: Local Councillor Shadowing Award.

New guide for local councilors on engaging youth

Local Government Improvement and Development, which supports improvement and innovation among local governments in the United Kingdom, has published a new guide to help local officials engage young people. The guide includes challenges to consider, case studies from around the country and examples of best practice for listening to young people. The document includes questions and activities to help councilors reflect on their own practice and experience and consider how best to engage young people in their work.

Engaging young people: Local Leadership Councillor workbook

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Youth participation training of trainers September 3-11 in Sintra, Portugal

Youth leaders and youth workers are invited to attend an 8-day workshop to help you learn how to train and support youth participation in multicultural settings.

The deadline to apply is April 28. Get more information and apply here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caribbean Youth Leaders commit to National Youth Councils in each country by 2012

Youth leaders from twenty-one countries recently spent three days discussing ways to strengthen youth governance networks in the Caribbean as part of a Commonwealth Youth Leadership Summit facilitated by the Commonwealth Youth Programme Caribbean Centre in Bridgetown, Barbados (CYP). The Summit was held in response to calls from Governments and young people attending various high-level Commonwealth meetings to focus on youth participation in decision-making and to strengthen the role of elected youth councils in decision-making and development.

Participating youth leaders discussed the need for greater collaboration in addressing common issues facing youth councils in the region, and for efforts to identify and adopt effective practices. At the end of the 3-day meeting the participants agreed to work together to establish youth councils in each country where they do not currently exist, drawing upon good practices that they had identified based on national operations and those set out by the President of the European Youth Forum in his presentation.

Summit participants set a deadline of 2012 for youth councils to be established or revamped in the eight countries of the region where they are currently non-existent or dormant. Recognizing the benefits of a strong regional youth governance network, they also agreed to continue working together towards this process. A team chaired by Jason Francis, President of the Barbados Youth Development Council, was established to manage the process of consulting with young people across the region. Beginning in July the CYP will assist National Youth Councils in developing strategies for consultation with their members and other stakeholders, and in using the information obtained through these consultations to draft a strategic plan.

Caribbean Youth Leaders commit to National Youth Councils in each country by 2012

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sefton and Knowsley Young Advisors Showcase

I recently visited Young Advisors in Manchester, U.K. I had a great time and learned a lot about Young Advisors in general and about the work done by teams in Knowsley and Sefton. Young Advisors act as paid "social action consultants," providing a variety of services designed to provide young people's perspective on issues, programs, services and events that affect them.

The work done by the Sefton and Knowsley groups includes, among many other projects, consultation and workshops for a local workforce development department on the use of social networking, providing feedback on a new curriculum in the "centers for learning" that replaced local schools, awarding funds across England to young people learning media skills, making recommendations to local councilors about how to make their meetings more interesting and accessible to young people, developing workshops for young people designed to raise awareness and understanding of mental illness, getting out the vote for the U.K. Youth Parliament, and providing young people's perspectives on "Section 30," a law that allows the police to disperse groups of more than two people--a law that many young people believe is disproportionately and unjustly applied to them.

This is an excellent model for youth participation. Take a look!

Monday, March 21, 2011

"My City Too" seminar on localism, youth and the built environment

The British coalition government is working to get its Localism Bill through Parliament. Among other things, the bill would place responsibility for decisions about planning and the built environment with local authorities and communities. Open-City is hosting a seminar on youth participation and localism at London's Royal College of Physicians on March 23. Young Ambassadors from Open-City's My City Too program and local authority representatives will outline proposals to get young people involved in the localism agenda in their communities and neighborhoods.

The My City Too campaign prepares young Londoners aged 12-19 to participate in decisions about the future of their neighborhoods, boroughs and city through action research projects, monthly forums, intergenerational workshops with city planners, surveys, and even a forum for mayoral candidates in 2008.

For more information about the seminar, see Localism, Youth and the Built Environment: an Open-City knowledge-sharing seminar.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Obama administration will attend 100 "Roundtables with Young Americans"

The Obama administration is encouraging communities around the U.S. to host "Roundtables with Young Americans" to discuss community problems, identify solutions and share success stories. The President says he values solutions from young people, and to prove it his administration will attend one hundred of these roundtables as part of an initiative called "Your Future, Your Solutions: 100 Youth Strategies for Winning the Future."

Roundtable participants can submit the results to the White House Youth Team, which will compile them in a database of models that can be replicated in other communities. The Youth Team will follow up with participants to let them know about other opportunities to connect with the White House, such as web chats and conference calls.

You can find information about how to hold a roundtable and possibly get a White House visit here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

National Youth Summit: What happens next?

In February the U.S. Department of Education hosted the "Voices in Action: National Youth Summit' in Washington, DC. The summit was attended by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and quite a few other DOE and White House officials, along with 300 students and 50 adults from school districts and youth-serving organizations around the country. The summit was held to promote dialog about how to achieve President Obama's goal for the U.S. to lead the world in college completion by 2020.

The Forum for Youth Investment (FYI) has posted a page on the summit that includes video of the opening and a "Summit Sampler" written by Alison Beth Waldman, a recent college graduate who attended. There is also a link to "Ask Sec. Duncan," which allowed students who did not attend the summit to ask the Secretary questions and vote on the top questions. However, it looks like the librarians have taken over. Most of the questions appear to have been asked by adults, and the top five questions are all about school libraries.

It's great to see the White House and the Department of Education seeking input from young people. The question, though, is what happens next? Did students' words have any influence on the decisions that will be made by the federal officials who attended? How will we know? If students had been asked what they think the President's goal for education should be, would they have chosen the same one he did? Do students even care if the U.S. leads the world in college completion?

Again, it's great to see the administration reaching out to students. But it will be even more interesting to see the follow-up. The FYI summit page indicates that Alison plans to write more on "edutainment, 'streets instead of schools,' and what happens when we’ve already talked to our Senators?" Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Symposium on youth participation in international decision-making to be held in May

The British Council and the Open Society Foundation, in partnership with the British Youth Council and the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council, are sponsoring a symposium on "Meaningful Participation by Young People in International Decision-making: Principles, Practice and Standards for the Future" May 16-18 in London. The symposium will bring together stakeholders from around the world to discuss effective practice and begin to develop a foundation for international standards for youth participation in international decision-making. The symposium will include stakeholder dialogues, thematic working groups; focused input from decision-makers, and a voice for young people.

For more information and to register your interest, please contact Sheila Mykoo at: or by phone at: +44 (0) 20 7389 4217.

Source: United Nations Youth Flash Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2011

Human settlements youth summit to be held in South Africa

South African Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwhale has called for a Human Settlements Youth Summit to increase youth involvement in designing future towns and cities in South Africa. On February 24 Sexwhale convened a roundtable meeting attended by over 50 leaders of South African youth organizations. A number of political and civil society organizations were also represented at the roundtable. Sexwhale told the roundtable participants,
We need young South Africans to take our vision forward, as we fully support the notion of "nothing about us without us." We want you to go back to your members and mobilise them behind the summit. We want you to prepare your thinking around this subject.
The summit is part of the Minister's Settlements 2030 Vision.

Media statement from the Human Settlements Ministry : Sexwhale calls on youth to get involved in the future of human settlements

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Budget cuts affecting youth participation in the U.K.

The chief executive and five other full-time staff have left the U.K. Youth Parliament since December due to pending reductions in government funding, according to Children & Young People Now. The CYPN article indicates that the British Youth Council (BYC) is also expecting cuts and is seeking new sources of funding. There have apparently been informal talks of merging the two organizations or working more closely to cut costs, but no formal merger proposal has been announced. The BYC recently entered into a partnership with Young Advisors.

The BYC is currently seeking funding from private and corporate sources and is seeking to expand consulting and training services in the U.K. and abroad to generate more revenue.

The proposed cuts in funding for youth participation are part of a broader set of reductions in funding being considered by the U.K. government. An inquiry into services for children is currently being held by the Education Committee in Parliament.

Cuts in funding at the local level are also affecting youth participation, as described in this article from Richmond, where the participation officer was one of 170 people let go by the local authority.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

British House of Lords debates voting rights for 16- and 17-year olds

On December 13 the British House of Lords debated an amendment that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in an upcoming referendum on electoral reform in the United Kingdom. The amendment was offered to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, and although it addressed participation in the referendum only, the debate included discussion of extending voting rights in general for this age group. This debate followed another in October during which over 200 MPs voted in favor of extending the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Although the amendment was ultimately withdrawn, the debate demonstrated that there is significant support in Parliament for extending the franchise to younger citizens. Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who introduced the amendment, opened debate by arguing that the lack of voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds amounts to taxation without representation. The Baroness cited the support of the U.K. Youth Parliament, the Electoral Reform Society and the POWER Inquiry (an independent inquiry established in 2004 to find ways to deepen political participation) for lowering the voting age. According to Baroness Hayter, "there is general support for voting at 16. The objections that were thrown up were practical ones rather than issues of principle. The real issue is that nearly everyone supports the idea of voting at 16."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Authentic Youth Civic Engagement: A Guide for Municipal Leaders

This resource is not exactly new--it came out in 2010. But it is an excellent guide for city leaders seeking to engage young people in the United States. The primary author is Cindy Carlson, who has directed Hampton, Virginia's Coalition for Youth. Hampton is probably the most well-known example in the U.S. of successful integration of youth into city and community decision-making. The guide is designed to assist local officials in taking four key steps to successfully engage young people:
  • Develop a climate that is welcoming and inviting to youth;
  • Develop an infrastructure that supports meaningful youth participation;
  • Create a range of meaningful opportunities for young people to participate in local government; and
  • Build youth-adult partnerships to support youth participation.
The guide contains a number of tools local leaders can use to begin and enhance their efforts at meaningful youth civic participation.

Authentic Youth Civic Engagement: A Guide for Municipal Leaders

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New resource from NYA: Challenge and Lead

Britain's National Youth Agency has produced a new resource for groups of young people seeking to influence and gain the support of policymakers. Challenge and Lead: A five stage plan to support leadership and challenge can help young activists identify strategies, hone their presentation skills, plan a campaign and evaluate the results.

Challenge and Lead builds on the NYA's Hear by Right standards and can be used by youth development professionals or groups of young people with some experience working together. The NYA is requesting that young people contribute case studies describing what they have accomplished using this resource.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Youth Parliament commences in Timor-Leste

On December 15 some 130 youth delegates from across Timor-Leste were seated in that nation's new Youth Parliament. Fernando Araujo Lasama, President of Timor-Leste’s national Parliament, addressed the group and invited them to participate in the upcoming budget discussions.

The new Youth Parliament--which at an average age of fourteen years is the youngest in the region--elected its first president, 15-year-old Lizeiro da Silva. The group also drafted its first set of recommendations on issues affecting youth in Timor-Leste. The recommendations, which addressed education, health, employment and recreation, were presented to the national Parliament and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.

The young delegates will represent their communities to the new Parliament for two years. Timor-Leste’s Youth Parliament is supported by UNICEF and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.

Youth Parliament commences in Timor-Leste

The politicization of youth participation

Here's an interesting opinion piece by Khairulanwar Zaini in Singapore's The Online Citizen that has implications for youth participation everywhere. A youth group called the Boon Lay Youth Club (BLYC) has been endorsed by the federal Ministry of Education (MoE) as an official co-curricular activity (CCA). The BLYC is sponsored by a junior college to give young people opportunities for community service, and the MoE endorsement signifies that the club's goals are in line with the Ministry's aim of encouraging the development of a sense of community and civic duty. The endorsement as an official CCA also means that members can earn CCA "points" that may help them improve their chances for admission to university.

The endorsement of the BLYC has been criticized by some Singaporeans, however, because the BLYC has ties to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Critics charge that the government's endorsement is a back-door strategy to support the children of the ruling elite, and to bring impressionable young people into the party. Defenders of the endorsement counter that it is simply a way to recognize a quality program and to reward young people who engage in service to their communities.

The specifics of this case are less important to supporters of youth participation in governance than the larger point made by the author of the opinion piece. Prior to independence from Britain in the mid-1960s, Singapore had a rich history of student activism. According to Zaini, the PAP-led government realized that such activism could threaten political stability (or its own authority, depending on one's perspective), and slowly drained Singaporean education of any trace of politics. The result, says Zaini, is that young people have become politically apathetic. According to Zaini,
"[I]t is not about the BLYC being a covert party apparatus, but that the government has contrived a new understanding of community service and civic participation: one that is intricately interwoven with statist interests. The problem is really how civic initiatives inevitably gravitate towards partnership with – or even under the complete guidance of – the government. This is not surprising, because the political vacuum of society has found itself occupied by the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. With such a monopoly, it is merely a matter of semantics to collapse all civic efforts into endeavours that maintain the government’s perpetuity."
This is the dilemma of officially sanctioned youth participation. When governments or other public entities like school districts sponsor youth participation, do they really want authentic youth voice? Not if those voices are loudly demanding change. At least in the developed world, the young people who participate in government-supported youth participation initiatives are unlikely to challenge the political status quo because doing so could lead to restrictions on youth voice, and to negative outcomes for those young people who raise such challenges. Thus most youth-in-governance initiatives are expressly apolitical, and the young people who participate end up spending most of their time planning youth- and family-oriented events that rarely lead to any significant change.

This is not a new problem. Any state-sponsored program is unlikely to support overt criticism of the state by those who participate in the program. This is why many young idealists are more attracted to grassroots activism than to youth-in-governance initiatives, which they see as support for the status quo. The noisy and unambiguous demands for change favored by many grassroots groups can be emotionally satisfying, and sometimes effective. Yet these tactics can also be counterproductive because they place those in power on the defensive. Quiet, incremental approaches to change such as youth participation may be frustrating at times--especially for young people--but they can also be effective because those who participate in them learn how power, influence and relationships can lead to lasting change through policy. The risk of cooptation is ever present, of course, but for young people with patience and determination, participation in governance can be an effective strategy for social and political change without violence.

BLYC debate: Excavating the political