Youth Participation & School Participatory Budgets: Engaging From a Young Age

by Participation Factory

On Thursday, 15 June 2023, a large group of excited participants gathered at the Prague 1 Strategy Centre for a workshop on youth participation and school participatory budgets. The workshop was held within the framework of the Visegrad Youth Participates project. This project involves the cooperation of Participation Factory and two NGOs, Fundacja Pole Dialogu from Poland and Alternatív Közösségek Egyesülete from Hungary. Together we are trying to find a way and set standards for systematic youth participation, starting from school participatory budgets to the involvement of children and youth in local governance.

Involving young people in decision-making processes and public life has many benefits for the youth themselves and society as a whole. After all, today’s young people are the future adults who will in one way or another be involved in the functioning of our country, and it is in all our interests to give them the space to learn this step by step. 

Probably none of the participants doubted that the youth should have a voice that should be heard. However, it seemed to come as a surprise to some how much potential the voice of school children has. 

In the introduction, our colleague Karel Kolář outlined the international framework of the Visegrad Cooperation and colleagues from Poland and Hungary shared their experiences via video. In the Czech Republic, the introduction of school participatory budgeting is not systemic, but is up to the individual decision of the school management. In Poland, the use of participatory budgeting in schools is very popular. School PB is used by every major city and there is a centralized system in place. The use of school-based participatory budgeting is least widespread in Hungary, where school PB is still more of a pilot programme. Next, Karel introduced the participants to the basic terminology used and introduced a trio of speakers who are actively involved in youth participation and school participatory budgets. 

The first speaker was Karolína Vilímová with her insightful presentation “From School Participatory Budgeting to the Kutná Hora Town Hall”. Already the title of her presentation foreshadowed the direction in which participating youth can take in their activities. The environment in which pupils and students receive education is undoubtedly schools. There, they learn to communicate, respect each other, listen to the arguments of others and then, perhaps, to rule the Mountain. “Panuj Hoře”, literally meaning “Rule the Mountain”, is the name of a unique project in which students manage the participatory budget of the town of Kutná Hora (“hora” = mountain). The project would not have a chance to succeed if the town leadership did not believe in it and actively support it. Karolína was one of the leaders of the pilot year and sees the greatest value in the personal experience she gained. She learned what it’s like to be a leader, to have a team of people and accountability for the work you do, and that change is possible. 

Participation Factory brought expert support to the start of the project. We trained the participating students in project management, participatory methods or facilitation and stood by them in the following phases. Not as a sign of distrust, but of support. 

Karolína was followed by Kristýna Seinerová, the chair of the Prague Children and Youth Parliament, with her participatory experience. She introduced the attendees to the issues and hierarchy of school parliaments, from school to regional to national. She added some practical tips on how to set up a school parliament and what to look out for. Active students are essential. They can join school parliaments on their own or through school leaders and teachers. It is important to maintain a certain informality in the school parliament and a friendly, safe environment where no one has to be afraid to express their opinion. School Parliaments need a coordinator, but his/her role should be supportive rather than leading. Again, it was mentioned that working with the city government is key and helps projects get from the design phase to the implementation phase. Kristýna also mentioned that school parliaments have the potential for a great outreach to spread information among pupils and students, for example even to global organizations like UNICEF. She then informed the participants about an initiative currently underway at the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic. Its aim is to educate and motivate other active learners, regardless of the type of school, to get involved in public life. This section ended with an active debate, a lot of practical questions answered by Kristýna, as well as sharing of successes and failures in different stages of the process of establishing a school parliament. 

Helga Hrabincová from D21 and her “Experiences with school participatory budgets across cities” completed the trio of speakers. D21 has developed the “School PB” app, which Helga presented with concrete examples. Its aim is to guide coordinators through the whole process step by step and at the same time to make it as clear as possible for everyone involved. Helga also went on to list the benefits of school participatory budgets for the school staff, the management and the school’s funders. Students gain presentation skills, budgeting experience and communication development. She revealed that D21 is currently working intensively on the possibility of implementing school PB through crowdfunding, where a collection is announced and the participatory process is to identify projects to be funded from it. After this presentation, a lively debate developed. It showed both the attractiveness of digital youth participation and the need to talk about it among an informed and engaged community. 

During the workshop, we learned why youth participation is important and what benefits it has not only for children but for the whole society. Pupils get training for adult life, they know that when they participate in something, it comes back to them and the environment, not just the school, can really change for the better. The next step of the project will be the implementation of a school participatory budget similar to the one in Kutná Hora. The outputs will be further disseminated as case studies, lessons learned and best practices in order to further promote school participatory budgets and participatory democracy in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Want to know more about school participatory budgets? Or are you already thinking about how to involve students in your city in similar projects? Get in touch with us at