Christian Herrmann

"We Need More Open Space"

Three projects, three years of project work. On 3 and 4 December in Berlin, together with 200 visitors and under the heading "medial. vernetzt. aktiv. Jugendbeteiligung in der digitalen Gesellschaft" ("media. networking. activity. Youth participation in the digital society"), the projects youthpart, youthpart #lokal, and peer3 looked back on their past activities and at the same time dared to glance into the future of this brand-new field of operation.

BildImage: Christian Herrmann

"What constitutes a youth-friendly municipality? How can we better support young people who had a bad start in life? How can we create an open space for young people in which they can express themselves and participate in decision-making processes?" Caren Marks, Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth raised some of the central questions that had guided all three projects throughout their duration. Marks stated that digital media could be a great help concerning the basic aspects of youth policy, wanting it to be understood that this was not only in relation to participation but also in the transition from school to work. 

The keywords "open space" were readily taken up by Prof. Dr. Franz-Josef Röll in his keynote speech where he called for a new culture of fascination with learning. Röll severely criticized the previous attempts at youth participation: none of them had had any effect on the structure of the political system. In the broad spectrum between self-organisation and instrumentalisation, lobbying would ensure that the pendulum would swing towards the former and in the end would create participation-free spaces. This would result in youth riots such as those experienced by French cities in the past, and more recently in Rome. And even where participation procedures had been started, Röll said in reference to the three projects youthpart, youthpart #lokal, and peer3, they were not consolidated.

Prof. Dr. Gesche Joost, Professor for Design Research at the University of the Arts Berlin and the Federal Government's Digital Champion at the EU, had a success story to tell about providing space for development: In cooperation with students, she initiated a "living lab", an experimental media laboratory right in the centre of Neukölln, a district of Berlin. During the summer holidays, they rented a shop, stuck a sign in the window saying "Street Lab", and started to offer creative leisure activities. "We didn't know the first thing about educational theory," Joost freely admitted. But the results speak for themselves: newly invented communication devices, robots made from scrap mobile phones, or voodoo dolls that make a noise when you throttle them. Everything was so colourful, so diverse, and so imaginative, that the happy mood immediately infected the audience and made them want to explore interdisciplinary projects between media education and design.

There was of course much more to explore in the workshops - after all, the conference was not designed around a lecture format. For example, you could take part in "floods of knowledge[GW1] " to learn about and discuss project results from e-participation and peer learning, find out about media tools for collaboration and participation, and look at the European dimension of online youth participation. Tips and tricks for successful peer-to-peer cooperation as well as recommendations and guidelines for e-participation at municipal level were available for participants to take away for future use.

The event ended with a panel discussion featuring Saskia Esken, Member of the Bundestag, the keynote speakers Röll and Joost, and the heads of the organisations funding the three projects. Since the discussion was about looking into the future of digital youth participation, the initial centre of attention was the Federal Government's "Digitale Agenda für Deutschland" ("Digital Agenda for Germany"). Esken stressed that this was only the first overall plan for digital education. Prof. Röll could not find Utopia within the document but rather saw it as something that opposed the self-determined learning and exploration spaces he had asked for. Marie-Luise Dreber, Director of IJAB, would like the addition of a "Young Digital Agenda" to specifically take into account the interests and needs of young people. Dr. Heike Kahl, Manager of the German Children and Youth Foundation, cast a critical eye over the relationship that politics and administration have with the processes of participation. During the project work, a lot of opposition had had to be overcome in some instances. Many local politicians and heads of administration had not been prepared to publicly admit that even they didn't have solutions for everything, and so it was difficult to get them to provide the transparency required to achieve successful participation. She also regretfully pointed out that many policy makers were ignorant of the living situation of young people - this too was a recurring theme at the conference.  

"Ignorance of living situations" and "lack of open space" was also taken up in the discussion contribution of Ulrike Wagner, Director of JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Education, again with an undertone of criticism. It wasn't at all a conference devoid of criticism that was attempting to take stock of three projects in Berlin. However, the criticism was not aimed at the projects themselves but rather at the unclear future perspectives – after all, funding is about to end for all three projects. The workshops in particular show how much additional content the projects have provided for the discussion on media education and youth policy, and how sustainable much of this new content is proving to be. Often, processes were being started that by now have developed a life of their own: for example, the "Guidelines for successful e-participation", developed by youthpart in cooperation with European partners, which will resonate throughout Europe. And it is Europe in particular that keynote-speaker Gesche Joost is looking to for strong incentives. "Young advisors" already advise the European Commission with regard to media and Internet policy. Joost would like to see this approach to young people's expertise being used by German politics and administration.       

Throughout the duration of the conference, a young editorial team was actively involved and reported online about the entire conference. The young people observed and commented with a great deal of charm and expertise about the goings-on amongst the adults who, more or less aptly, had their say about young people. The reports are available here:

Conference website:

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