30 participants from 13 partner organisations in Belgium, Finland, Germany, Austria, Malta, Luxembourg and Turkey travelled to the seminar, organised by Belgian organisation De Ambrassade, to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by digital participation, to share best practices and to develop joint projects.
The event was devoted to exploring ways to encourage young people’s active citizenship in the digital society. An additional aim was to enhance the quality of youth work in the area of e-participation and to identify potential training requirements. Significantly, the meeting resulted in a common understanding of the role of youth work and the realisation that youth organisations, those active in youth information and youth workers have to play a much stronger role in youth participation processes. They should mediate more actively between the interests of young people and decision-making processes at the political level, supporting and shaping participation processes using both digital tools and offline methods. This calls for expertise, training courses and best-practice examples from all over Europe.
Graeme Robertson, representing the European Commission, underscored the urgency of the topic and encouraged the parties to share their knowledge with others, to strengthen participation by young people, and to help hone and develop their skills. He referred to the European Youth Portal and the Structured Dialogue, in which additional e-participation elements are to be implemented in the next few years. Tanya Basarab from the EU-CoE Youth Partnership presented the results of the symposium “Youth Participation in a Digitalised World”, which took place in September in Budapest. She made reference to the significance of the subject at the European level, highlighting in particular gaps in the research and the importance of combining offline and online approaches to participation processes.
As a current European project, “EUth – Tools and Tips for Mobile and Digital Youth Participation in and across Europe” was featured, in which IJAB is a partner. Daniel Poli gave both a keynote address and a workshop on success factors for the administrative dimensions of e-participation, emphasising the opportunities that can open up for youth participation. Sven Augusteyns from the Belgian NGO Ringland reported on new ways to appeal to and mobilise large numbers of young people for political purposes, using the example of the motorway ringroad initiative Ringland in Antwerp.
At an Open Space Project Fair, best-practice examples and approaches from seven countries were presented and discussed. It was evident that the same challenges are faced everywhere and that everyone is developing and testing similar tools. Koordinaatti – Development Centre of Youth Information and Counselling presented the Finnish e-participation system www.nuortenideat.fi, a joint initiative by Finland’s ministries of justice and education. Under this scheme, all young people can contribute their ideas to political decision-making processes at the local, regional and national level. Another Finnish example of fostering digital participation was presented by the City of Helsinki and the umbrella organisation of Finnish youth organisations, Allianssi: www.valtikka.fi. From Malta, the youth information portal www.kellimni.com was presented as an exemplary project. Further e-participation elements are to be implemented and tested on the portal in the future. Projects conducted by JUGEND.INFO were the focus of the Austrian presentation. The European Youth Information and Counselling Agency (ERYICA) featured the training course “Digital YIntro”, which will be further developed to incorporate new approaches to e-participation. The seminar will be useful for updating the course next year and developing a training course. A representative of the Protestant Academy of Saxony-Anhalt introduced new ways to collaborate with young people, presenting a “Minecraft” participation project that offers political education through play. The Berlin-based project www.kiez-veraendern.de showed map-based initiatives by young people in multicultural areas of the city. Belgium was represented in the form of a new e-participation platform of the Flemish Youth Council (www.vlaamsejeugdraad.be) as well the project www.hallopolitici.be, which was launched in 2015 and is related to the German project abgeordnetenwatch.de. Here, citizens can directly contact members of parliament and ask them questions. Finally, a number of other project ideas were discussed and developed further.
In conclusion, all participants agreed that should there be a follow-up to the seminar and that an on-going exchange should be established at European level. The foundation was thus laid for setting up the #BePart network. The idea for a follow-up conference in Helsinki at the end of 2016 will be discussed over the next few weeks. There is evidently a great need for exchange and cooperation on this subject, and the opportunities for successful European cooperation are just as compelling.
For more information, go to http://www.bepartevent.com/