Digital youth participation - why and how does it succeed?
What needs to be considered in youth participation, and why does this target group need special attention?
Young people are usually underrepresented in participation processes that are supposed to address all age groups. Many feel that they are not taken seriously or think that their opinion does not count. Therefore, targeted measures are needed to involve young people in political decisions and show them that they are being heard.
Co-creation means identification
We know this from our everyday lives: Those who help shape projects and processes - or at least have been consulted on the subject - identify with them. He or she is more willing to follow a path and accept challenges. This is especially true for young people, who experience a lot of heteronomy in their everyday lives. For their political and democratic education in particular, it is therefore a crucial building block to strengthen their identification with projects and experience self-efficacy through experienced democracy.
Germany is one of the signatories of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has thus decided to convert the most important international human rights instrument for children into national law. Youth participation is therefore a big issue, not only in schools and clubs, but also in politics.
In general, young people are more active on social media and platforms than older citizens. However, they are less engaged in offline participation processes such as workshops or meetings. So digital participation picks up your target group where it is. But it also offers flexibility in terms of time and location. This makes it easier to reconcile different needs, school and leisure activities. In addition, online participation is often more inclusive: people with language barriers or disabilities may find it easier to get involved and participate if they can do so digitally. Last but not least, it is easier to make processes transparent and comprehensible online. Transparency, in turn, creates trust.
Seven basic rules for youth participation
Digital participation can help to better involve young people in processes. But whether digital or analog, the requirements for initiators of successful youth participation are the same:
#1 Involve young people early on
You save yourself a lot of work if you involve young people in your planning early on. Otherwise, you can easily overlook the participants and their needs.
#2 Form partnerships
Schools, youth clubs, (sports) associations: many institutions are happy about projects in which young people are involved and gain experience with politics and social issues. Those who join forces spread the process over several shoulders and increase their reach.
#3 Communication at eye level
Technical terms, abbreviations, and foreign words are barriers. Explain your specifications, limitations and possibilities using real-life examples. Conversely, refrain from using juvenile language. They will most definitely see through that!
#4 Why, why, why
Young people want to know not only how they can participate, but why. Why is their opinion important to you? Why now? Why doesn't everyone just discuss it in Messenger? In planning/conceptual design, every "how" should therefore always be followed by a "why."
#5 Safe Space
A safe space is important to feel protected. Those who are not afraid can develop space for thoughts and feelings and dare to change an opinion sometimes. This also includes paying strict attention to data security. Platforms like OPIN are committed to protecting personal data.
#6 Participation is relationship work
Talk clearly about the expected outcomes from the start. The older young people are, the more bad experiences they have had with empty promises. Point out who is on board, which decision makers need to be convinced, and who is willing to support the project. Be honest if you don't know something or are still waiting for answers.
Youth participation projects need time. Besides school and extracurricular commitments, there is often not much room for additional involvement. Even a short participation process can drag on for a few weeks. Think about how you can bridge the time in between so that you don't lose sight of the goal.
Platforms for digital youth participation
Liquid Democracy has developed two free participation platforms: OPIN and adhocracy+. Both score points for intuitive use and place particular emphasis on security and data minimization. With different modules like short opinion polls, ideas, texts and theses can be collected, discussed and evaluated. It is easy for initiators to set up projects and moderate the ongoing discourse. The registration process often deters trolls, for example, which is another reason why hate speech and abusive discussions are much less common here than in social media. It is also possible to initiate private projects to which participants are invited directly.
As important as the right software is, in the end it is crucial that young people who participate feel good about the process. One of the ways you reach participants who feel self-efficacious is if they understand the topic and have confidence in you. Young people have an opinion and they definitely want to share it, so get started!