With an emphasis on non-hierarchical leadership and participatory decision-making methods, (activist) youth groups connect locally, internationally and digitally to work collaboratively on finding innovative and sustainable solutions to common challenges. This chapter explores how self-organised activist movements and youth groups can participate more actively in decision-making, especially through the use of digital collaborative tools, and how they can have a stronger impact on the political agenda and/ or on decisions taken in their local communities or schools.
While teachers and parents often complain that youth is using digital tools mainly for fun, some youth movements use them in truly constructive ways, organising impactful collective actions, demanding responsible political decisions and raising public awareness. These forms of youth involvement are fundamentally different from slacktivist practices (online activities requiring very little effort of commitment such as "liking," "sharing," or "tweeting").
Participatory activities within institutions such as schools, where processes are usually initiated by adults, or outside them, where self-organised youth act on their own, can thus complement each other and lay the groundwork for more democratic and citizen-centred political systems in the future.
Citizens’ assemblies (CAs) are bodies of citizens who come together to deliberate on a given issue of high public and social importance with the aim to develop solutions and recommendations for decision-makers. They are designed to empower citizens, to prove that they are capable of governing themselves and regaining control over their own future.
CAs are usually organised by public administration in collaboration with third sector organisations. Participants are mostly randomly selected from their communities’ register to create a group that represents the diversity of the community in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, education level or socioeconomic status. Professional facilitators and various experts can sometimes take part and have an important role. They moderate the discussions to allow everyone to have their say and to support the group and its diverse opinions in reaching an agreement. The final CA recommendations are usually forwarded to a committee of experts and representatives of political institutions (e.g. mayors, ministers) for further consultation and implementation.
Some Citizens Assemblies have a merely consultative character while others have a binding character, which means that policy makers and administrators are committed to implementing the proposed solutions. CAs work best when citizens and other involved actors know that their recommendations will have a real impact.
Citizen Assembly step by step:
- Choosing a topic of the Assembly (eg. how we can fight climate change in our city).
- Decision-makers (e.g. city council) provide funds for the Assembly and commit to implementing recommendations made by panelists.
- An organising team is created, developing a concrete plan.
- A random group of participants is selected, representing the entire community.
- Meetings of panelists, which can be divided into:
- educational meetings, during which experts help panelists increase their knowledge on the topic.
- discussing and debating the recommendations.
- voting on the recommendations.
- Sharing decisions with the whole community.
- Decision-makers implementing the recommendations of the Assembly.
Participatory budgets (PBs) are collective decision-making processes in which residents and members of communities decide together how to spend a part of the public budget to finance their own ideas and proposals. This democratic process was initially initiated by the Workers’ Party in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 where local communities could participate in the whole process of the design of the local budget – from being involved in creating proposals to forming the final shape of the budget. This mechanism created conditions for education, empowerment and engagement of the community beyond voting and had a positive impact on the level of inclusion of previously excluded socio-economic groups. The idea of PB started to spread very quickly around the world in the early 2000s. In many current cases, the amounts of money intended for the projects directly submitted by citizens rarely exceed 1% of investment expenditure.
Generally the process of a PB follows these steps:
- Design the PB process: the team who is responsible for organising and conducting the process creates a document stipulating the rules and regulations: who will be eligible to submit projects, what are the criteria of the projects, how the final decision will look like.
- Communicate: ensuring broad communication and promotion of the PB allows for the inclusion of groups who are typically underrepresented and excluded from the decision-making.
- Brainstorm ideas: Through online or offline meetings, citizens are encouraged to share and discuss their ideas for projects. Community members need to be provided with transparent and sufficient information.
- Develop proposals: Budget delegates develop the ideas into feasible proposals. Participants should be able to consult experts and have access to the relevant expert knowledge.
- Promote the proposals
- Vote: residents vote on the proposals that best serve the community’s needs.
- Fund and implement winning projects: after announcing the results, ideas are then implemented by the organisers of the process (usually the public administration/institution in collaboration with members of the community).
The goal of organising such a process – beyond wasting less money and resources on pointless and failed public investments – is to bring about more far-reaching social change.