Well over 100 young e-participation practitioners, researchers, developers, youth policymakers and other interested parties from all over Europe travelled to Berlin to attend the open summit, entitled “The Future is Now”, in an atmospheric former brewery. On the agenda were the future of e-participation for young people and ways to (digitally) support participation processes. The EUth project partners and representatives of 15 pilot projects were also in attendance to present their outcomes as well as the final version of OPIN, an online platform that responds to the needs of young people and helps to implement participation processes. But the OPIN toolkit was not the only point to be discussed; attendees also discussed broader societal issues relating to youth e-participation.
Day 1: Societal context and recommendations for developing e-participation as a field of action
A welcome address by Kerstin Franzl, the EUth coordinator at the nexus institute, and a live video message by Andrea Halmos, policy officer at the eGovernment & Trust unit in the European Commission’s DG CONNECT, were followed by two keynote speeches. Kristen Aigro (European Youth Forum) noted with concern that young people are systematically underrepresented in decision-making bodies. “Young people should be brought to the table no matter what the topic is, but it especially hurts when they are not involved in youth-reated topics,” she said. Young people can be change-makers, she continued, but their voices are still not being heard sufficiently. The second keynote speaker, political sociologist Brian D. Loader (University of York, UK), was similarly concerned. He has observed a growing disillusionment among young people with institutions and more established practices of representative democracy. Rather than engage with traditional models – the dominant cultural practices of democratic participation – young people are drawn more towards new or alternative channels, which have an increasingly networked character. Instead of lamenting young people’s lack of engagement, Loader argued, traditional democratic practices should be adjusted to incorporate the networked communication models used by young people so they can truly become “young networked citizens”.
The next session involved four workshops on development, synergies, impacts and tools. The key questions on the agenda were: How can e-participation be boosted (development workshop)? How can citizens’ participation be made attractive for young people, and what can youth participation learn from citizens’ participation (synergy workshop)? How can new communication channels be incorporated into traditional decision-making structures (impact workshop)? And how can online and offline methods be combined (tools workshop)? The recommendations produced in the workshops formed the basis for a subsequent panel debate with Raul Broto Cervera (Mollet del Vallès municipality), Ellen Durst (European Commission), Yannick Furgal (Paris City Youth Council) and Davide Mazzoni (CATCH-EyoU), hosted by a very enthusiastic and lively Hans-Ludger Dienel (nexus). The full set of recommendations is available at https://www.euthproject.eu/recs/ and on the etherpad at https://yourpart.eu/p/7zicUjdcSQ.
Day 2: E-participation in practice
Day 2 began with a highlight: the first ever presentation of the Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future before a youth work audience. The future development of the internet will also affect the way young people participate, said Ceren Unal from the Internet Society. She described the research being done by her organisation on the future of the internet and presented the main messages of the Report. The Global Internet Report was finalised in 2016, after eleven months of work, and summarises the responses given by around 3,000 government officials, human rights lawyers, NGOs, young people and internet experts. The creed of the Report, said Unal, is that “we believe the core thing is to put humanity in the center of Internet, which belongs to everybody.“ The subsequent panel discussion saw Unal joining Solana Larsen (Mozilla Foundation), David Jinjikhadze (LEPL Children and Youth National Center of Georgia) and Edgar Schlummer (ENTK, Council of EU presidency, Estonia) to discuss the impact of the internet on e-participation.
A key element of Day 2 was a bar camp session to build a list of issues for the eight “sharing sessions” that followed. During these sessions, participants discussed practical issues surrounding youth e-participation as well as tools such as OPIN, and shared hands-on experiences with each other. Towards the end of the open summit, young journalists from a number of European countries who had been asked by EUth to follow the summit proceedings and provide media coverage reported on the outcomes of the two-day event. Participants were given a screening of a new video on the EUth project and OPIN and heard the closing remarks of Kerstin Franzl, the EUth coordinator at nexus. All agreed that the open summit had delivered fresh insights and input for their future work.
Note: The outcomes of the two-day Open Summit are documented in full at www.euth.net/summit/outcomes.
About OPIN – an all-in-one toolkit for e-participation: OPIN is a combination of a multilingual platform and mobile applications that offers initiators of participation processes a tool for broad participation. Thanks to OPIN, young people can be consulted from the very beginning of a project, from concept design or collection of ideas right up to drafting a shared proposal, commenting and agreeing on suggestions, and producing a position paper. OPIN also offers a mapping function and incorporates a mobile voting app that allows young people in certain geographic areas to make their opinion heard. And the best thing about OPIN is that it brings together online and offline activities to produce a participation process. Prior to going live, the platform was extensively trialled under real-life conditions by experts and young people all over Europe, helping to produce a high-quality, broad-based toolbox. The full version of the software will become available in 2018 so that young people can be invited to join e-participation processes. For more information, click here!
About EUth – tools and tips for mobile and digital youth participation in and across Europe: EUth is a European research project (2015-2018) that is funded by the European Union’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. For more information, click here!