Systematic youth participation requires commitment from both young people and local governments

by Participation Factory

Participation is an essential part of our democratic society. In today’s European Union, citizens have the opportunity to take an active part in decision-making processes and vocalize their needs. It is a right all of us are endowed with. However, there is a specific group of people that we tend to forget when decisions are made. It’s the youth.

Given their young age, there are fewer opportunities for the youth to engage in the public and political sphere. Yet, that doesn’t mean that their voices shouldn’t be heard at all. There are ways young people can have a real say when decisions affecting them are being made at the local, regional, or even national level.

In Participation Factory, we emphasize the importance of engaging the youth since we understand that their opinions and skills are often underrated and overlooked. It is not just about giving the youth the opportunity to be involved in decision-making for their communities and developing civic values, social trust, and strengthening democratic values. You would be surprised by the quality of data that you can generate only by asking the youth. 

One of the most common examples of youth participation is participatory budgeting in schools. It focuses on promoting teamwork, and communication and teaches pupils basic electoral principles. Our team has extensive experience with participatory budgeting in schools not only in the Czech Republic but also Africa and the US. However, over the years we have come to a realization that participatory budgeting usually becomes exhausted quickly after a few years. 

Hence, the current trend is increasingly turning towards a systematic approach to youth participation. This allows a more sustainable, deeper youth empowerment, and the possibility of establishing long-lasting partnerships and cooperation between youth and the local government itself. 

In the Czech Republic, there are already existing platforms focused on systematic youth engagement, such as various youth parliaments. The National Parliament of Children and Youth is an apolitical, democratic, and balanced space for debate established in 1997. The idea, which was originally taken from France, was to bring together young citizens who wanted to participate in public affairs and take an active interest in them. The National Parliament of Children and Youth collaborates with various national institutions and undertakes activities to develop and educate youth on issues of immediate concern to them. They organize roundtables and discussions with experts on various topics and make young people aware of their rights and responsibilities. Through this mutual communication, they contribute to the public debate and partly influence the national scene on issues concerning children and youth in the Czech Republic.

Enabling young people to participate in their community is not only about helping them to have a say now. It is also about supporting young people to experience the opportunities and challenges of participation and being involved in community life. If the participation is to be real and meaningful for young people it not only requires their commitment, it also requires the strong and lasting commitment from everyone else, in particular the local and regional authorities, as the authorities closest to young people.