In this week’s Global Local, we’re examining young people’s view of democracy and how local government can better engage our youngest citizens.
Young people and democracy
In this week's Global Local, we're examining young people's view of democracy and how local government can better engage our youngest citizens.
There are around 1.2 billion young people in the world, living in different political contexts, with different experiences. Their participation in political processes, views on institutions and sense of citizenship are important factors in the quality and resilience of democracy. In some countries, young people are fighting for political freedoms and the chance to shape the future of their countries, often at considerable risk to themselves. Meanwhile, in mature democracies there is concern that young people are disengaging from politics and losing faith in liberal democracy. Younger generations are less likely to vote in elections at all levels than older cohorts. They are less likely than older people to join unions or political parties. Young people are woefully under-represented as MPs and councillors, for instance, in the UK only 3% of MPs and local councillors are aged under 30. This leads to a growing disconnect between what politicians and governments do and the concerns of young citizens. For some young people, political and economic alienation may make them more susceptible to radical and extremist narratives, especially when online where polarisation and misinformation is rife.
However, there is substantial evidence that young people are interested in social and political issues; and they want to make a difference on local and global challenges. Young people participate in politics in different ways: through school-based activity, civil society, ethical consumerism and accessing and sharing political content online. The last decade has seen numerous mass protests around the globe, including the Arab Spring of 2011, Black Lives Matter and climate activism, led by young people using digital technology to organise and mobilise.
The challenge for democratic institutions, whether national parliaments, state legislatures or municipalities, is to encourage youth engagement in representative democracy while also integrating less traditional forms of political participation. If left unresolved, the United Nations warns that disillusioned youth may threaten stability and security. Local governments can play a key role in this. Not only do local councils tend to be more trusted by younger people than by older generations, but they are closer to the issues that most affect young people in their everyday lives (top concerns from young people are typically violence, public transportation and public amenities).
In this edition we feature a new global briefing on young people’s views on democracy; plus innovation, resources and examples from around the world on how municipalities, local agencies and youth advocates are engaging young people.
Were you sent this Global Local newsletter by a local government colleague?
Our purpose at LGIU is to keep local government informed, engaged and connected. Subscribe to Global Local and for less than $1 a week and this subscriber-only Global Local newsletter plus access to detailed, topical policy briefings will be sent straight to your inbox each week. Is your organisation already a corporate member? Register with us to find out and potentially get Global Local at no extra cost as part of your membership.
This week's featured content
Are young people losing faith in democracy? It’s complicated…
By Kerry Ferguson, LGIU Associate
Healthy democracies are characterised by active engagement between governments and citizens at election time and between electoral cycles. Civic participation, by which communities work together or as individuals in political and non-political activity to protect or improve society, is at the heart of being a ‘good’ citizen. Participation can take many forms, such as voting, signing a petition, volunteering, campaigning on an issue or standing for election.
It is notable that young people participate less in civic life than older people. They are less likely to vote in elections than older generations. They are less likely than their elders to join unions or political parties. They have low levels of trust in political leaders, and they are hugely under-represented on elected bodies such as parliaments and local councils. This can lead to a vicious cycle whereby young people’s views and concerns are unrepresented, leading young people increasingly to see politics and democracy itself as irrelevant to their interests, making them less likely to engage.
This briefing examines the evidence around young people and their commitment to democracy. It considers the arguments on both sides of the debate, expanding on an earlier LGIU briefing on a report from the UK think tank Onward about British young people’s views on democracy.
Key points are:
- Some studies have found that a growing proportion of young people in North American and European democracies are disillusioned with democracy and attracted to authoritarian models of government. However, other studies have found that it is older generations who are the most dissatisfied with the status quo. Furthermore, some research has found no ‘age’ effect and argues that other factors are more important in people’s attitudes such as their socio-economic position.
- While the evidence is inconclusive, it is clear that the resilience of democracy as a system depends on the ongoing backing and engagement of citizens, so there is a continuous need to engage new generations in democratic processes and values.
- Democratic renewal and young people’s civic engagement is a challenge in which national governments, local governments, schools, youth organisations and others can all play a role.
This briefing summarises the key arguments in the debate and comments on its potential relevance for local government. It will be of interest to local councillors and officers, particularly those with responsibility for youth services, communications and democratic services.
LGIU Global Local Highlights
How Kirklees Council’s pioneering Democracy Friendly Schools programme is inspiring young people to get involved in local democracy
When the Kirklees Democracy Commission embarked on their exploration of what it would
take to grow a stronger local democracy in Kirklees, the experiences of young citizens led to
a long term commitment to change things, for the next generation – and beyond.
The Perth and Kinross Youth Voice Forum
This article details Perth and Kinross Council's experience in organising their successful Youth Voice Gathering program. The council showcases the lessons they've learned to improve diversity, accessibility and flexibility in the gathering as well as some of the forum's surprising outcomes.
Youth Assembly on Climate Change – another innovative action underpinning participatory democracy in Ireland
This briefing provides a background into the Irish Government’s Youth Assembly on Climate Change initiative, a representative forum for young people to discuss environmental issues. It details the debates the assembly held with supported research and facilitation, the recommendations created by the assembly, and the successes of the scheme as a whole.
Improving young people’s engagement in Scottish local government
This briefing concerns a legacy report into how effectively Scotland's 32 councils engage and liaise with young people on key issues that affect them. The report aims to fill the void that has led to young people in certain areas of Scotland being left behind in local policy making.
Innovation & Inspiration
Curated case studies and news from around the globe.
UNITED STATES: Proactively engaging communities in updating the One Seattle Comprehensive Plan
The City of Seattle’s Office of Planning & Community Development (OPCD) is currently updating the city’s 20-year plan for growth and change. The Seattle Comprehensive Plan will guide decisions about where to locate housing and jobs and investment in transportation, utilities, parks and other public assets. OPCD developed an extensive community engagement plan, with particular focus on people who have historically been excluded from decision making, including communities of colour, low-income people, renters, young people and the LGBTQ+ community. OPCD has partnered with community organisations to deliver engagement activities, and is also utilising Community Liaisons (embedded community leaders) to act as a bridge between city government and community interests. Between November 2022 and January 2023, five community consultation meetings took place which attracted many young people and diverse communities. Attendees reported excitement about the plan, and an ambition to go further on new housing, commercial development and improved recreation spaces across the city.
SWEDEN: School elections give young people a taste of democracy
In Sweden, voter turnout among young people is as high as among older people. This could be linked to the quality of civic education in Swedish schools. Schools often prepare students for voting before they reach 18 years by inviting representatives of different political parties to visit and talk to students about how the country’s democratic system works and what the different parties stand for. Young people can compare the parties and draw their own conclusions. Many students participate in a school election initiative called ‘Skolval’. This mock election is often timed to coincide with actual elections, serving as a practice for the next generation of voters and a snapshot of their political views. Students experience filling out a ballot paper and casting their vote. In 2022,1,442 schools took part in the school election, with around 386,000 students voting.
TUNISIA: Mandatory youth quotas get more young people elected to municipal councils
After the youth-led Arab Spring of 2011, Tunisia underwent a transition towards democracy. Young people in Tunisia have little faith in the political system, particularly in rural areas, and have struggled to be heard politically. However, the municipal elections of 2018 saw the introduction of mandatory youth quotas on candidate lists, resulting in people under 35 years old securing 37% of the seats on municipal councils. While youth quotas have undoubtedly helped young candidates to get elected, research suggests that more work is needed to grow the diversity of the candidate pool and increase the impact of younger representatives when in office. The young people who were elected tend to be highly educated and politically active, benefiting from family or other social connections. Further political socialisation is key to embedding democratic values and getting more young people from a range of backgrounds into politics.
ENGLAND: London Voter Registration Week (LVRW) boosts registration amongst young and under-represented voters
LVRW is the biggest democratic partnership in the UK and aims to address voter registration inequality in London. The coalition involves Shout Out UK, the Greater London Assembly (GLA), all London Borough Councils, the London Voter Registration Strategic Partnership, and over 150 civil society and education organisations, who co-design and co-deliver publicity activity and materials under the hashtag #NoVoteNoVoice. 2020’s campaign week achieved a total online reach of 2.6 million people and helped 75,000 under-represented Londoners register to vote. The campaign successfully used social media and memes to increase registration rates among young Londoners by 23%, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The LVRW2020 campaign was a finalist in the UK Democracy Awards 2022 and was showcased by the European Parliament’s EU Digital Citizenship Working Group and Meta in the Europeans Fit for a Digital Age report. They were impressed with LVRW 2020’s co-design model, partnership working and impact.
Policy & Resources
Resource hub: Youth participation
SALTO Participation and Information Resource Centre is an organisation that
promotes youth engagement across Europe. This is an EU-funded online
information hub aimed at young people, youth workers, youth leaders and
educators on youth participation, media literacy and digital communication.
Highlights include an introduction to the principles of youth participation and a
resource pool containing project examples, training and toolkits.
Activity pack: Local democracy Hackney Youth Parliament in London created an activity pack for Local Democracy Week 2022. It contains videos, games, presentations, role-play exercises and fact sheets about democracy. These resources are aimed at sparking conversations and debate with young people about democracy and citizenship. The activity pack was produced by young people, for young people. The packs were sent out to schools in the borough of Hackney and made available to all online.
Communication guide: Engaging young people in open government The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has produced a guide on how to engage young people in open government. Open government initiatives support democracy and inclusive growth. Engaging young people in open government can grow their understanding of and interest in politics and promote active citizenship. Active and engaged young people can lead to government innovation and improved service. This report provides practical guidance for governments at all levels on how to engage young people, through a better understanding of young audiences, techniques for reaching marginalised young people and using relevant/appropriate messages and communication channels.
Report: Growing a stronger youth council
Since 2008, Kirklees Youth Council has helped children and young people in
Kirklees, a metropolitan borough in Yorkshire, UK to learn about local democracy, gain skills and confidence as active citizens and have a voice. To mark the council’s 10-year anniversary, a group of ‘young commissioners’ were supported to gather evidence from young people and make recommendations to Kirklees Youth Council and Kirklees Council. The final report contains proposals on supporting young people; democracy in schools; stronger relationships between young people and councillors; and engaging young people in council decision-making. Many of the 30 recommendations are highly relevant to other local authorities and youth councils.
Think Tank Review February 2023
The Global-Local Think Tank review highlights key findings from leading think tanks and research institutes across the globe. This month’s edition focuses on housing affordability, including the controversies around ‘zoning’ and centralised mandates; and how to involve refugees/migrants in place-making and urban planning (a category of stakeholder often overlooked in development processes). The review also covers reports on tackling the care workforce shortfall; the lessons from German regional policy after unification for ‘levelling up’; modernising benefit systems; and how cities are using data and evidence in policy making.
Call for case studies!
Our Global Local bulletin highlights local solutions to global challenges, with a different theme each week offering critical insights, policy suggestions and case studies. We love hearing what our subscribers are up to, and the successes and challenges they’ve experienced in policy or projects.
As such, we’re looking for your insights on our upcoming editions. If you can tell us about these topics, please get in touch and we can help you craft an effective case study.
International Women's Day.
Digital poverty and rural broadband.
Abandoned buildings and land.
How do you tackle climate change during a cost-of-living crisis?
Local elections and supporting election workers.
Click here for more details.
Thanks for reading!
Global Local is a subscription service that brings you the best innovation, ideas and experience to be found in local government around the world. We believe that we learn, adapt and deliver better for our communities when we are connected.
Next week, we’ll be celebrating International Women's Day.
If you would like to share your story, you can fill in this simple form or drop me a line at [email protected]. Please drop the link of this newsletter to a colleague or share it on social media to help us reach even more people who value local government globally. We tweet from @GlobalLocalLGIU.
Want more content? Visit our website to access our Global Local briefings, blogs, podcast and more.
Copyright © 2022 LGiU, All rights reserved.
Our mailing address is:
251 Pentonville Road
London, N1 9NG
Add us to your address book
Want to change how you receive these emails? Why not update your preferences to pick and choose the type of alerts you receive. You can unsubscribe from this list (but doing so will mean that you will not receive any content from us, including LGiU daily news and other LGiU policy briefings).