How can we increase youth participation in society? Read a review of some practical tools available.
Participation means taking part. Not only is participation taking part but also it means being a part of a greater whole, operating in cooperation with others in something bigger than just one’s self, being a partner in sharing responsibility for both decisions and actions. In this way participation is a challenge. A mature democracy is not possible without citizens’ participation. On the other hand there are many barriers to citizens’ participation in public life and especially when the youths are concerned.
Such characteristics and behaviours like escaping privacy, individualism, focusing on own career, are attributed to young people. These are attitudes that make it difficult to engage in activities for the common good. There are a few guide books and websites which can help deal with participation (United States Environmental Protection Agency (n.d), Participation Works (n.d), Family Health International (2005), Participatory Methods (n.d)). They focus on participation in order to solve different problems or to engage different stakeholders. They have mainly very practical aim and despite some advantages, a lack of general and theoretical perspective is present. The authors focus on presenting tool-kits of increasing the level of activity and participation and give some interesting hints on how to put them into practice by adjusting to specific contexts. The book “Participation Youth Handbook” seems to differ. The authors not only present the tools and examples, but they also discuss and reflect on participation. The preparation of the textbook can be considered an attempt to answer the problem of social and civic passivity of the young generation. Participation – as the authors emphasize – is not an end in itself, it is a process. It is an important action that can change the lives of individuals and the fate of entire societies.
The manual consists of several parts. The key concept was explained in the first one. In the second part several models of participation are presented. The third part consists of descriptions of selected case studies. Emphasising practical aspects that make the authors expect to encourage young people and the youth workers to engage in this process.
To what extent can this textbook contribute to achieving this objective? First, by showing the various ways (models) of participation, with particular emphasis on the activity of young people. Second, by presenting and analysing several cases of the youth’s involvement in achieving social goals. Third, by proposing scenarios of various games and activities aimed at eliciting young people.
In the description of different ways of participation, the ladder metaphor comes to the foreground. The ladder can be a tool when important decisions are being made. The handbook describes several typologies of participation which take into account the degree of the participants’ involvement.
The three case studies illustrate different strands of the participation process. The first concerns the struggle of young people for maintaining budgetary funds allocated for their activities. The second describes the activities of Young Mayor and their Young Advisers. The third concerned overcoming individual and collective dimensions of communication barriers. All examples of youth participation in creating the public sphere combine at least three features. First of all, they present real engagement of the young generation representatives in important and serious matters to them. Secondly, they point towards the need of involving different stakeholders when common goals are concerned. Third, they emphasize that involvement of the youth in decision-making processes is empowering, inspiring and educational for them (training of political activities).
The most important is the practical part of the textbook preceded by the 360˚ Participation Game and by scenarios of classes. The 360˚ game requires from participants their engagement in all stages of making public decisions on the example of changing a common space. It includes such stages like the formulation of objectives and activities, directions, as well as consultations and discussions on the best solutions. Also decision-making and in-depth evaluation of the process are part of the game.
The last part of the textbook contains “Activities” which are twenty-five ready to use scenarios of classes with the youth. The idea of “Activities” focuses on the basic, and at the same time necessary competences for the participatory processes. The main goal is to equip participants of potential workshops with appropriate patterns of communication skills also with partners of different cultures (and especially values) and different genders or abilities.
The main value of the textbook is that the authors devoted a lot of attention to theory and practice. They do not only teach about techniques and tools of participation but they do teach through them. Not only do they give the readers (youth, youth workers, local authorities) scenarios of decision-making processes, but the scenarios of acquiring the competencies necessary to make decisions about diverse and complex matters. The textbook is an interesting attempt to combine the theoretical perspective of social capital (Putnam 2000) and to put it in practice by following different participation models. From the perspective of developing participation it can be considered as strengthening both bonding and bridging capitals of societies.
Family Health International (2005) Youth Participation Guide: Assessment, Planning, and Implementation, Advocates for Youth. Rights. Respect. Responsibility, http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/1652-youth-participation-guide-assessment-planning-and-implementation [Accessed 24 May 2018].
Grace J., Grace P. (2017), 360˚ Participation. Youth Handbook, Available online: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/f3ef4c_cb09e020f28145449b0ea711886a1486.pdf [Accessed 26 April 2018].
Participation Works (n.d) Resources, http://www.participationworks.org.uk/resources/ [Accessed 24 May 2018]
Participatory Methods (n.d) Resources, http://www.participatorymethods.org/resources [Accessed 24 May 2018].
Putnam R. D. (2000), Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community, New York, Simon & Schuster.
United States Environmental Protection Agency (n.d) Public Particpation Guide, https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-05/documents/ppg_english_full-2.pdf [Accessed 24 May 2018]