Youth Participation Begins with Thorough Preparation



Anastasiia Starikova

Marc Mulder, Youth Policy Officer, leveraged the Democracy Reloading initiative to strengthen youth participation throughout the entire municipality of Eindhoven. How? By mobilising fellow policymakers to listen to the voices of young people and making it more accessible for them. With the step-by-step guide Marc developed, they are now better prepared to engage with youth, aligning with Eindhoven's 2021 policy objectives. The Background Marc Mulder shares, "As a preventive youth policy team, we were accustomed to reaching out to young people at their schools, educational institutions, youth centers, or community centers. Young people can best articulate their thoughts and the issues in their lives and surroundings. At 36 years old, I can't fully relate to their experiences anymore, and the same holds true for nearly everyone in my line of work. Recently, we organized an event with the PSV football club for 12 to 17-year-olds. We asked, 'What challenges are you facing? Tell us.” "As a team, we simply began. With common sense and a bit of luck, you can make progress. Mistakes are also valuable learning opportunities. We abandoned the obsession with numbers. Feedback from 25 young people might not be statistically representative, but it can certainly offer insights. If you persist in proclaiming from your office that youth participation is difficult and not inclusive, nothing will change." What Steps Should You Follow at Minimum? "During the Democracy Reloading initiative, we observed that meetings with young people could lead to disappointment if the preparation was lacking. Apparently, this was our forte. We used the initiative to document a plan that we had previously discussed verbally, which turned out to be significant. I wanted to be able to provide other teams in the municipality with answers to the question: What are the essential steps to ensure readiness for a youth participation initiative? We knew that several factors needed to be determined beforehand. Such as: this is our question; this is our target audience; these stakeholders can be involved, and this is what we bring to young people. The latter means that sometimes we merely collect information, but sometimes they are also allowed to have a say." "Moreover, we structure our sessions and create a playbook. Perhaps even more important are the methods we choose, as they need to entice young people to participate. Filling out a paper survey is not appealing to them, but taking a quick poll on social media is effortless. Our municipal youth council, 'jong040,' is thriving, boasting 1,000 Instagram followers. This gives us a vast reach. Additionally, there are other prerequisites and points to consider in interactions with young people. Equality and openness matter to young people, and we value these aspects as well." "I documented all of these aspects. Through the Democracy Reloading initiative, I was assigned a junior municipal coach, a young person aged 12 to 22, who I could ask for feedback. This political science student represented the youth perspective. It worked splendidly. I also had an enlightening session with a colleague from the Flemish Democracy Reloading branch, who had already created a similar step-by-step guide. This helped me create a final product, which is almost ready to be presented to my colleagues." Democracy Reloading: Structure and Sustainability "The Democracy Reloading made me realize that we, as the municipality of Eindhoven, already have a solid framework for youth participation. However, there is still room for improvement in terms of structure and sustainability. Establishing youth participation consumes a great deal of time and, consequently, resources. Resources that the municipality must scrape together from various sources. Without a proper structure, we cannot guarantee young people a sense of security." "I hope that youth participation becomes more of an obligation at the national level. We need consistent funding, just as in other countries. Then, we won't be dependent on the goodwill of a local councilor. Our councilor often asks, 'What do young people want?' But what will happen in five years when someone else holds that position?" "Youth input brings a lot. Sometimes they tell us that we're on the right track, while at other times, we realize that we need to make adjustments. They may even offer 'unsolicited advice.' Members of the youth council recently mentioned that young adults had difficulty finding information on finances, housing, insurance, and other issues they face at that age. We conducted research and discovered the Kwikstart app, where you can find all this information for each affiliated municipality. We asked them, 'Does this solve your problem?' It did. Subsequently, we supplemented this app with information for the residents of the Eindhoven municipality. Throughout this process, we continued to seek their feedback to ensure it truly benefited them. It was quite a task on our part, but it aligns with their expectations, which is what matters." A Valuable Journey "The initiative has encouraged me to collaborate more with other municipalities, to learn from each other, just as in the previous network sessions during the European Year of Youth. Thanks to the knowledge from Erasmus+ and NJi, I learned about the existence of European subsidies for online youth work, something we were exploring. Together with nine other European cities, the municipality of Eindhoven has received a grant to explore the possibilities. This opens up tremendous opportunities for our future. It's yet another 'valuable exchange." Credits to Marc Mulder and NJi, Netherlands The original in Dutch language can be found by the link