Wed, Aug 12th, 2015
Erasmus+ Key Action 3, Support for Policy Reform, promotes the active participation of young people in democratic life in Europe. It stimulates and provides a framework for debate about issues affecting young people. ‘Structured Dialogue’ is the name used for discussions between young people and decision makers that should ultimately inform policy-making. In this post, to celebrate International Youth Day (12 August), Dermot O’Brien of the National Youth Council of Ireland, brings us through a Key Action 3 Structured Dialogue project step by step.
‘Youth Empowerment for Political Participation, European Structured Dialogue Cycle 4’. At first look it might seem like the title of an important lecture in a Political Science course at University. For us it was more like a challenge you might see in the TV show ‘The Apprentice’: “here’s your topic, now go and see if you can get young people involved!”.
In fact this was the theme to be discussed by young people across the EU Member States during the Trio Presidencies of Italy, Latvia and Luxembourg. In Ireland this work falls under the ‘Young Voices’ heading and for us this was about “how can young people be more involved in shaping society”. So, in July 2014 it was game on!
One should never underestimate the importance of the start point for a project like this and for us it was about our ‘belief’. We believed that young people should be more involved in political participation and we believed that young people wanted to be more involved in political participation! After this our focus was about designing a process–or creating a journey–that would give young people an authentic experience of participation whereby they could join the journey at any point and be able to look back on the road travelled and look forward to the next destination.
The vehicle that would take us on this journey was Erasmus+ Key Action 3 (KA3) Support for Policy Reform. Essentially the funding from KA3 gives us an opportunity to support the conversations that need to happen between young people and policy makers in order to build momentum for positive change.
So, as we head into the last six-month leg of this 18-month journey of the Trio, what has happened? Is it worth sharing? Is it relevant to International Youth Day?!! Let’s see….
In September 2014 we needed three young Irish people to represent us at the EU Youth Conference in Rome. We put out the call and selected three fantastic young people who travelled to Rome in October, met with their counterparts from across the EU along with policy makers. They did an important piece of work: they decided what questions we actually need to ask young people if we want to support ‘empowerment for political participation’.
Between November and December we did a Red C Poll which asked 400 young people throughout Ireland what their views were on empowerment and political participation. This was good stuff because it gave us a fantastic insight into the variety of views and perceptions at this moment.
We took the mind-blowing feedback from the Opinion Poll, combined that with the key questions from the EU Youth Conference in Rome, and we hit the road in Ireland, visiting young people, students and youth groups to hold Focus Groups. We asked the questions, and they gave the answers! We asked about education, increasing trust with decision-makers, joint policy making, youth work, inclusion and diversity, creativity…
What did we do with the answers? We shared them with Irish policy makers and then created a report that we handed over to the next three Youth Delegates that would represent Ireland at the EU Youth Conference in Riga in March 2015.
The guys came back from Riga after some hard work with a set of recommendations! A total of seven recommendations, with two parts for each!! This was indeed the combined thinking of all of the young people who had been involved in all of the conversations across all the EU — not bad going when you think about it.
So, a set of European Recommendations to help us promote Youth Empowerment for Political Participation! What would the youth of Ireland think of these? There was only one way to find out: ask them!
We held two meetings in Dublin and invited young people to travel from anywhere in Ireland (remember the KA3 funding, it supports this) and re/join the journey. The first meeting in April was important because we wanted to “unpack Riga” but we were also invited to support the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs who was heading to a High Level Ministerial Debate in May and wanted us to share our feedback from the Riga Recommendations. An intense day in Dublin gave us a brilliant insight into young people’s thinking on the proposed recommendations and how they might work in the Irish context. At that meeting we agreed to meet again so that we could prioritise a number of recommendations for Ireland.
We met again in July with no evidence of summer cobwebs in the critical thinking minds of young people in Ireland! We used the Edward De Bono Thinking Hats to support our work throughout the day and ultimately the young people took the informed decision of choosing the following four priority areas which they believe will support Youth Empowerment for Political Participation in Ireland:
We will send our three new delegates to the EU Youth Conference in Luxembourg this September with these priorities and we hope that they will come home with a roadmap for implementing the actions that are needed to deliver on the proposals!
What we have gone through here is a fascinating process that may seem complex in its architecture; but what we can say without question is that young people have been involved at every stage of the journey in a conscious and consistent way, because we believe…!
Dermot O’Brien – Structured Dialogue Project Officer, National Youth Council of Ireland
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