The Path from Ooststellingwerf to Genuine Participation

Young People


Trainer Anna Harbers undertook a mission for the municipality of Ooststellingwerf, seeking ways to involve disadvantaged youth and vocational students in the policymaking process. Early in her exploration, she unearthed a deeper issue: those young individuals eager to contribute their thoughts and engage with the local government were, in fact, participating. However, both they and other residents of the community felt that their voices weren't truly heard. A change was needed; their voices must resonate in the shaping and establishment of policies. Fostering Awareness of Participation within the Municipality Anna: "The solution appeared straightforward: fostering awareness of participation within the municipality. Yet, it proved more challenging than anticipated. Not all parties were cognizant of the issue. Some argued, 'We're doing enough already; why should we invest more time and money in this?' In response, my colleague and I engaged in dialogues with colleagues, the administration, youth, stakeholders, and residents in various ways. We wanted to understand their challenges and what was working well. Thus, we organised a themed meeting for colleagues and the municipal council, and we placed an idea box near the coffee machine. Our hope was that the theme would take root within our municipal organisation, and it did. We noticed that more colleagues approached us with inquiries about implementing participation." Advice on Youth Engagement Over time, a Vision for Citizen Participation emerged, encompassing recommendations on youth participation initiatives. Anna explains, "We documented the perspectives of youth, experts, researchers, and those who work closely with young people, such as youth workers, in a report. We then translated these insights into a framework for shaping youth participation." The Vision aims to provide the municipality with direction and guidelines for citizen participation. Anna further elucidates, "This enables us to make more informed choices about citizen participation and put them into action: why do we involve citizens, which tools align with the participation question and the target audience? And how do we ensure that the process doesn't conclude after the implementation of participation? It's crucial to inform people about what we're doing with their input and how they can witness the impact in their daily lives in the community. If we can't determine in advance whether we can make their input concrete and how we'll achieve that, it might be better not to initiate participation at all." What Lies Ahead for Youth Participation? "In the process, we observed that the municipality has already employed several tools for youth participation," Anna says. "These tools are fundamentally sound, but we still have much to learn. We must better empathise with the youth and discern the questions that matter to them in each situation. Moreover, we should consciously select the most appropriate tool for the group we aim to engage." During the process, Anna compiled a "stakeholder" map of entities connected to youth and potentially playing a role in youth participation. "Think of schools, associations, and youth work. They interact with young people. They earn their trust. Collaborating more closely with them can help us hear the youth's perspectives." Learned Lessons Anna reflects, "What I've learned from this process is to engage in conversation. Seek to understand what others mean and immerse yourself in their world. This applies to young people and residents, your colleagues, stakeholders, and the administration. In my experience, everyone is willing to contribute and think creatively, as long as there is dialogue." She adds, "Separately, it was beneficial to have ample time available to comprehend the problem and raise awareness. I had the freedom to develop an independent perspective. As a trainee, this was my first assignment with a municipality. Consequently, I could still apply my own 'youth perspective' and didn't view things through a typical 'bureaucratic lens.' I could question and bring to light things that others might consider normal." Credits to Anna Harbers Link on the original text in Dutcht: