Participation in democratic societies goes beyond elections and voting. What are the other tools that help young people be more actively involved, and how can they use them to reach policy makers?

Show Notes

Participatory democracy does not rely only on elections, but also on a range of other tools and mechanisms which facilitate citizens' participation in decision-making. These tools can help young people to organise, engage with policy-makers at all governance levels and demand policy changes. 

In this episode we discuss the contemporary youth participation trends, what different tools and methods are used by the Council of Europe and its member states, the European Youth Forum, and youth organisations across Europe, and what is needed to achieve meaningful participation and impact on policy. 

Guests: Cornelia Perle and Christiana Xenofontos
Hosts: Ismael Páez Civico and Lana Pasic

Would you like to know more?
Have a look at our resources on youth political participation.

What is UNDER 30'?

Welcome to UNDER 30, the podcast series by the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership that brings research results, explores trends in young people's lives and themes relevant for youth policy and practice.

The EU-CoE youth partnership is a co-operation programme between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth, created in 1998, connecting youth research, policy and practice.

Youth Participation


[00:00:00] Cornelia: Maybe it's, maybe it's also wishful thinking because as I said in the very beginning to, to create a mind-change and to make a sustainable, to create a sustainable participatory culture, you need to start with young.

[00:00:32] Ismael: Hello everyone. And welcome to Under 30', a podcast brought to you by the youth partnership between the European commission and the council of Europe. I'm Ismael Paez Civico and together with LanaPasic we'll be hosting this episode. We hope you enjoy!

[00:00:55] Lana: Today at under 30, we are speaking about participatory democracy and the [00:01:00] tools that can be used to promote participation of young people and all citizens across the council of Europe member states. We us, we have Cornelia Perle who is from the council of europe. The division of elections and participatory democracy and Christiana Xenofontos from the European youth forum. Welcome to both of you. We will start with Cornelia, Cornelia can you present yourself and, uh, briefly tell us what is it that you work on?

[00:01:27] Cornelia: Thank you very much Lana for the invitation to participate here. Uh, yes. As you said, I'm working in the division of elections and participatory democracy, and I am, um, coordinating the component of participatory democracy within our

[00:01:46] Cornelia: uh, division. Um, we are currently implementing cooperation projects on this topic in, um, yeah, Ukraine currently not implementing, but it's on hold due to the terrible [00:02:00] situation, but we hope to be able to continue soon and to adjust also to protect to this context. And we are implementing a project in Georgia and, uh, also in the Balkans.

[00:02:13] Cornelia: My professional background, if you ask. So I am actually the conduct by Austria to the council of Europe and, um, the previous to, uh, my work in the council of Europe I have worked for many years in international development cooperation, focusing on human rights and a peace building, always mainstreaming the topic of women empowerment and inclusion.

[00:02:40] Cornelia: And therefore there is a very close relation, always to the topic of participation and inclusion. And I've worked in, uh, this Wistia. I said in Uganda, as we have spoken before, and my focus was mainly, but, uh, in, in Latin America and international development organisations.[00:03:00]

[00:03:02] Lana: Thank you, Cornelia and, uh, Christiana. I pass the microphone to you.

[00:03:10] Christiana: Thank you, Lana. And thank you for inviting me today. So I am Christiana Xenofontos . I am a board member in the European youth forum having as a main portfolio, youth participation. Um, I've been quite active the past 10 years in the youth sector. Uh, I was a youth policy officer for the Cyprus youth council for five years following the process of the youth dialogue, which I still follow now from the, um, YFJ spectrum, uh, academically, I'm a political scientist myself, uh, with expertise in international relations.

[00:03:49] Christiana: And, um, the last two years, and I mean, currently I'm working, uh, as a researcher assistant to a member of the parliament here in Cyprus, where I am [00:04:00] located. And this is a very nice opportunity for us today to discuss about, uh, participatory, uh, democracy since it's also the European year of youth. And it is an opportunity to also strengthen

[00:04:15] Christiana: um, the participation of young people and how we can actually be actively involved into the policy making. So once again, thank you for inviting.

[00:04:32] Ismael: So I have a question now more directly towards Cornelia, but of course Christiana, if, uh, if you're, if you're interested in answering the question after you can also do that. Um, so we do know that COE works on promoting democracy and the rule of law in general. And you work of course, with you need to have elections and participatory democracy.

[00:04:49] Ismael: So my question related to that was what are some of the tools besides the election mechanism that can be used to promote citizens participation and strengthen our democracy? [00:05:00]

[00:05:02] Cornelia: Yeah, as you say, as you say correctly, the citizen participate, uh, people participate, uh, traditionally in political decision-making through their vote, through participating in elections.

[00:05:17] Cornelia: And, but we have seen in actually at the global level, but also of course, in council of Europe member states, the decreasing participation in election, the vote to turnout goes down and down and the decreasing trust in the, in election, in election systems, in elected officials, we have seen frustration and de-motivation more and more, um, in, in, in this regard.

[00:05:41] Cornelia: And, um, so in this context, the other forms of participation in political decision-making come more and become more and more important. And, um, We have, uh, we are promoting at the moment in council of Europe, different [00:06:00] forms of participatory demo, uh, participatory tools, mechanisms that, uh, tools to involve people in public space planning.

[00:06:11] Cornelia: People citizens directly in the development of policies have action plans of strategies and to do so, how to engage people practically in this, uh, in, in, in this processes, in this political decision-making processes, we have, um, there are tools like citizen assemblies, where people where a settled, random selected group of people can come up with recommendations.

[00:06:38] Cornelia: The concrete recommendations. We have a consultation platforms online, offline platforms where citizens can express their opinion on certain topics. On certain issues. We have tools, mechanisms for participatory budgeting, where citizens can [00:07:00] have a say and have a stake, in the, in, in, in how the budget of a municipality, for example, is spent or, uh, if it comes to young people, for example, school participatory budgeting is a tool, is a mechanism how to involve young people, students, um, in the decision, how the budget of the school is spended.

[00:07:22] Cornelia: Uh, so there are several forms, uh, how to engage citizens in the difference in the political decision-making making. Outside of the traditional, uh, election process. And, um, as I said, this, uh, tools are becoming more and more important than above all with young people, because I think they want to get engaged and they want to participate, but maybe not in the traditional form of election and part a party system.

[00:07:55] Cornelia: So. Um, these new innovative ways [00:08:00] how to engage people are very important when it comes to, to, to young people. And also just to, as a last comment, I think it's also. Uh, very important to think that these, uh, we are talking or you were asking about tools and it's not only about tools and mechanisms. It's rather about creating a culture of participation where the tools are used.

[00:08:26] Cornelia: So we are not so much promoting the tools, but what we are promoting and trying to really implement is, uh, but we are trying to promote this. Um, the participatory culture, a change of mindset towards participation, where then these tools are used and we are working on the practical application of the tools.

[00:08:50] Cornelia: So I just want to change your question a little bit and shift the focus, not on promoting the tools, but promoting participatory culture and [00:09:00] using the tools. Uh, Practically apply it.

[00:09:04] Ismael: I I'm actually very glad you changed the question cause I have a follow-up specifically rather than what you said. I remembered in 2019 elections, we had the highest turnout in voter participation, especially of young people.

[00:09:15] Ismael: Do you think there was something done throughout those elections that, that maybe made young people be more active in them. I mean, I remember those around, I think it was 49%, which 49% for the European union is enormous. And we didn't see that before ever in some countries, it was higher in some countries, it was lower.

[00:09:32] Ismael: Uh, I know various NGOs actually did work in lots of projects to promote, uh, young people participating in those elections. But what is your perspective on that? Do you think there's, maybe there's a, maybe this may be a trend with the political turmoil that we are seeing that young people actually do want to get more involved.

[00:09:47] Ismael: Um, not just in general participation that you said, but also in the elections, like we saw in back in 2019,

[00:09:53] Cornelia: What we are seeing more globally and more, um, more [00:10:00] generally is a, the decrease of voters, uh, participation. So maybe it's a little bit difficult to relate on this specific, um, situation, uh, because our justification and our conviction is.

[00:10:15] Cornelia: That, um, we need to work stronger on other participation mechanisms, other participation strategies in order to get them back to the ballot boxes because we see that the ballot boxes are not really, um, there is not really a big motivation of young people and voters in general. To go to vote. So, um, I don't know how to respond to your questions.

[00:10:42] Ismael: No, I mean, I completely agree up to that point and they're not necessarily contradictory. I mean, you can very much have one year that something happens and then of course a trend does go down. So I do agree with that point. I was just saying that one specific instance, there was a big movement forward.

[00:10:56] Ismael: I'm going to pass on the word now to Lana. If she has something to say regarding that.

[00:10:59] Lana: [00:11:00] Thank you Ismael. Um, actually I, uh, also wanted to follow up, uh, similarly to what Cornelia said, because the research that is done at the European level also indicates this similar trends. So we are seeing, if you look at, uh, Euro barometer, From, uh, from the past few years, we are seeing that young people's participation is increasing in different, in different ways.

[00:11:25] Lana: Uh, but not necessarily in elections. Uh, if we look at only the results from last year, zero barometer. Compared to 2019 one, uh, for example, uh, there is, uh, an almost 10% increase in young people's participation in different ways through volunteering through student unions, for example, through youth organizations.

[00:11:46] Lana: But, uh, we are not seeing that high increase in the elections. Um, except as Ismael mentioned for the 2019 European elections. And I think the success of that, uh, has to be largely credited, [00:12:00] uh, also to the enormous campaign, uh, and enormous work of the, uh, of the parliament on, uh, engaging young people in that. But as you said, Ismael also youth organizations maybe to, uh, to pass on to Christiana, uh, because there were some

[00:12:15] Lana: tools that Cornelia mentioned, which I know that youth organizations in youth sector are using quite extensively already, such as a participatory budgeting, for example. So Christiana, uh, what are the tools that the youth forum promotes and, uh, how, uh, are young people are encouraged to engage, uh, in participatory democracy?.

[00:12:35] Christiana: Thanks for the question Lana, but allow me before I answer to your question to also bring, uh, I'm, I'm happy that I'm listening to this conversation. Now I'm going around the elections. And when we are talking about participatory democracy, And the policymaking or the decision-making. We have to think about it as a whole process.

[00:12:57] Christiana: So elections is just a [00:13:00] part of the whole process is just the part in which we need young people. So it is crucial, of course it's their right to vote. But what we are striving for is to have young peoples throughout the whole decision-making process. And to add on some things that you mentioned as well, but also Cornelia.

[00:13:20] Christiana: Uh, touch them a bit, um, is like young people. They do participate, uh, in different forms of participation. And it's maybe now the time to understand that when we're talking or when we are approaching participation we're talking about several forms of participation, like campaigns, uh, like, um, Online, um, participation using their digital tools.

[00:13:52] Christiana: Young people are actively involved. So we need to find the methods to approach participation [00:14:00] in participatory democracy in a way that is not going to be politics as usual, because politics as usual is being quite rejected by young people. And also. I mean, if also we concentrate our focus on the elections these might be, uh, the reason why they don't go and vote.

[00:14:23] Christiana: It's probably their way to say, but not that they are not interested, but they are rejecting, uh, politics as, uh, as usual. Uh, but now going to your question, Lana, so as youth forum, I mean, we're always trying to find tools or ways to be youth friendly and at the same time to promote what we're calling co- management and co-creation.

[00:14:49] Christiana: Um, I'm going to share a few examples. with you starting from my favorite since it falls under my portfolio as well, which is they eu youth dialogue. [00:15:00] Um, and I am happy also sharing this podcast, uh, uh, with the, you both Ismael and Lana, because I know you've been quite involved into the process. Uh, and it is indeed, a tool for participatory democracy, despite the challenges that we're facing there as well.

[00:15:19] Christiana: The youth dialogue for everyone that hear us, is it aims as a tool to boost young people's involvement in the democratic processes by ensuring that they are voices and opinions, count and it is um, a process that lasts 18 months involving consultations with young people and youth organizations in the EU member states and during EU a youth conference.

[00:15:44] Christiana: As a European youth for now, we are part of the steering committee of the youth dialogue, uh, which means that we are co- co ordinating, the implementation of the process together with representatives from the European commission and the trio [00:16:00] presidency, including always the national youth councils. So the EU, uh, youth dialogue structure as a participatory policy making structure.

[00:16:13] Christiana: It is a tool that we need, but at the same time, we understand that it needs to be further strengthened and to be spread, uh, in other levels and areas of decision-making not just focused on the youth. policies . Another project working as a tool for us, especially, uh, this, uh, last one year and a half, approximately since we are going also through the process

[00:16:40] Christiana: of the conference on the future of Europe is a 25% project and 25 because the 25% of the total population of it to that population of Europe, it is us, the young people. And we are still facing barriers in having a say on [00:17:00] our future, or we are still under represented that we created the 25%. Uh, a project designed from young people for young people to make sure that our ideas are listened to where decisions are made.

[00:17:15] Christiana: And we have three main goals there, um, to give space to young people, a safe space for young people to participate in the conference on the future of Europe, to share their ideas for young people, to learn how to make a change in their communities. And that's why we have created also a handbook uh, in order to support them into their campaigns or in ways that they want to be actively involved in the democratic life.

[00:17:44] Christiana: And, um, it is also a tool for young people to be heard by policy and decision makers. So I'm not taking also their, uh, you know, opportunity to urge the people that they are listening to us to go and visit our website. It's [00:18:00] a www.the25percent.eu and to submit their own idea.

[00:18:06] Lana: Thank you Christiana. And, uh, it's very interesting.

[00:18:09] Lana: What you're saying that young people of course are, uh, asking, uh, for alternative spaces and alternative methods of participation. And, uh, I actually wanted to ask Cornelia as well. Uh, although they don't work directly only exclusively with young people, whether the same trends can be seen across, uh, the, the different age groups, uh, in the countries where she's working.

[00:18:35] Cornelia: Thank you for the question, Lana. I just also wanted to come back to another point that Christiana mentioned, and I think that's a very important point for us also in our projects and in our approach on participatory democracy. And that is, uh, it's the education of citizens because in our. Division in our work.

[00:18:59] Cornelia: We [00:19:00] work very strongly with local authorities, with public authorities who are the ones who need to apply to introduce the tools. So if we are talking about the tools, the practical tools, how to engage citizens, this needs to be done by local authorities. But if you have the most willing local authorities or public authorities to engage citizens, um, this is useless

[00:19:25] Cornelia: as long as you don't have citizens who are willing to engage. If you have that, if it's useless as long, you don't have young people who want to go there to go to the activities and to use the mechanisms that are offered by public authority. Um, to, to hear the voices of the citizens. And I think this is a very important, um, issue that Christiana raised, as I said, education of citizens, education of young people to, for them to understand where are their entry points [00:20:00] in the decision-making cycle, because it's a.

[00:20:04] Cornelia: I mean, the most obvious thing is to protest and maybe e-petitions a petition. So, I mean, there are some very commonly known forms how to, how to, uh, express or how to try to enter, uh, to make your voice heard, to enter into this political decision-making process. But if it comes to the very practical, um, very practical engagement, so citizens really need to understand

[00:20:34] Cornelia: how a, uh, um, a decision-making cycle is working. They need to understand how a budgeting cycle is working. At what point they can make their proposals at what to which institution they can make the request so that it is really heard. And that it has really an effect. And to that end, for example, our projects always offer a [00:21:00] specific education at a young adult adult education tools

[00:21:05] Cornelia: like the U-change a tool, which is the game game-based education tool where citizens can learn. About their entry points and where they can learn where they can really make a, um, their voice heard and where they can really get effectively engaged in, in the decision-making. I think there is not one answer to this question.

[00:21:32] Cornelia: Uh, there is not the trend in all the countries. Very, uh, where you can say it's the same. It's really geographically, a little bit different, culturally, a little bit different. Um, but I think you can say young people are the most, uh, willing to engage in new, innovative, uh, uh, participatory strategies. So, this is what we see all over.

[00:21:58] Cornelia: And maybe [00:22:00] it's, maybe it's also wishful thinking, because as I said in the very beginning to, to create, uh, a mind-change and to make a sustainable, to create a sustainable participatory culture, you need to start with young people. So as I said, we see that young people are ready to. To engage, but it's also the one, the most important target group, uh, I think, uh, for us to, to get them engaged because this is where you have to start changing things.

[00:22:31] Cornelia: And, and, um, also I think it's very important when it comes to participatory mechanisms. Uh, as I said, Many of them are face to face. And it's very much about dialogue and dialogue on dialogue is still very, very important, um, taking place face to face, but of course much is happening in, in, in social media very [00:23:00] much is happening, uh, using new technology.

[00:23:04] Cornelia: And using digital forums and there, of course the native digitals are the forerunners and that they are much more, they are much more interested and they are much more capable and, uh, they have, uh, ease to, to participate, um, on this level. So. Here, it's something. We can also see that they are in an advantage and they are a very willing target group to get engaged in this level

[00:23:37] Ismael: um, I'm very glad Cornelia, you really actually already opened the path to the next question. Cause you did speak a bit about the environment of it and what is actually needed for the participatory tools actually work. I mean, Christiana spoke a lot about the actual different examples. I myself was involved with the European Union Youth Dialogue for quite some time.

[00:23:54] Ismael: And that together with the advisory council on youth, I think that's at the pinnacle of political youth [00:24:00] participation, uh, in the European union and in continental Europe uh, as a whole in general. So make my question directed towards that. What actually is needed as a democratic environment, let's say for young people to actually participate and use these tools, because like we said before, participation is not just going out to vote is also participating in projects.

[00:24:18] Ismael: It's volunteering is online participation and it has to be a certain environment, uh, something driving, uh, the need of, uh, of young people let's say or even the atmosphere that goes around it. Do you have anything to add?

[00:24:32] Cornelia: Yeah, definitely because I think, um, there is some something, I mean, that is crucial, I think, um, because people, young people, but citizens in general are motivated to get engaged, but, uh, their motivation can be very easily get frustrated when they feel, when they see that their engagement does not result in concrete, [00:25:00] tangible.

[00:25:01] Cornelia: Changes. So I think, uh, and, and again, I would like to change your question. I think it was not so much about how these young people can use the tools, because I think the tools. In the end of the story still needs to be applied and implemented by the local authorities, by the elected officials. I mean, in the end of the story of our systems, it's the elected officials.

[00:25:29] Cornelia: It's the institution who have the responsibility to offer the tools, to offer the possibilities for citizens, for young people to be engaged. So it's not so much the question. How can the young people use the tools. It's more about how can public authorities, how can institutions, how can elected officials really make sure that young people have access to.

[00:25:55] Cornelia: To be engaged, have access to the tools and how can they [00:26:00] be motivated to get engaged. And here, I think the crucial and really the crucial question is, or the crucial moment is that public authorities need to. Implement and apply these tools in an open and transparent way and above all, they need to make sure when people get engaged, when people young people, um, get engaged, make their recommendations, make their proposals, whatever, how they introduce

[00:26:32] Cornelia: their ideas into this process, that these ideas are taken up, that these recommendations are implemented, then that these, um, these, uh, the output of their engagement, the output of their volunteering, the output of their participation really results in a change of the policy results in, uh, in the implementation of the recommendations.[00:27:00]

[00:27:00] Ismael: I'm really glad Cornelia because you keep reading my mind when we come out to the actual value of that input and I think that Christiana is perfect to actually answer that question because we do know that the youth forum actually is trying to do a lot regarding that. So, Christiana what would you have to say regarding how do we value the input of young people participating in these processes or in a more general manner.

[00:27:21] Christiana: Just to add on what Cornelia mentioned. And I'm so glad because many of the points that I have to share with you as well are actually interconnected with her points as well. Um, when it comes to tools that we give to young people, indeed those tools have to be practically, um, also for the authorities, uh, for the public authorities, the local authorities in order to be used.

[00:27:46] Christiana: But at the same time, I think a crucial aspect on that is to co-create those tools, uh, together with the citizens together with the young people as well. And this is something very important in [00:28:00] order to. Support our societies to move forward as well because even public authority remained some years ago to some previous practices.

[00:28:13] Christiana: Let's say then the crucial part which is the civil society is not supported from those schools anymore. So you need to listen to them. You need to understand what are their needs in order to operate with them. Something that it will be uh, practical in their daily, uh, in their daily lives. Another thing which is, um, super important is a citizenship education, uh, as a representative also for a non formal education providers here as youth forum, we work towards increasing their recognition of the impact of youth organizations on young people's holistic development.

[00:28:57] Christiana: And we believe that. In [00:29:00] approaching it say education in a holistic way, you know, it's, you can emphasize in the contribution of non-formal education to young people's development. And it is therefore important to emphasize that citizenship education has provided in participatory youth organisations

[00:29:18] Christiana: actually contributes significantly to the development also of responsible citizen.

[00:29:25] Lana: Well, thank you both for a very interesting conversation about the holistic ways of participation, uh, we've discussed not only the tools, uh, but the importance of the environment, the importance of, uh, Strengthening, uh, and establishing also the culture of participation, uh, for all citizens, not only young people, um, and, uh, Sorry Cornelia...

[00:29:52] Cornelia: Can I just add something to just to close our discussion?

[00:29:57] Cornelia: And that is the circle that we open [00:30:00] because we started in the very beginning, um, talking about the elections also and, uh, to talk about, uh, seeing participatory tools as something additional to. Additional way for citizens to express, uh, there to participate in political decision-making. And then, um, Ismael was asking, uh, about the environment and, um, what is needed, um, to make, uh, to make an engagement really effective.

[00:30:32] Cornelia: And I just wanted to close this circle because that's very important for us to, to stress the point. Um, we think that participatory. Mechanisms are extremely important to engage citizens additional to the election in the political decision-making to make this effective public authorities and elected officials need to take into [00:31:00] account the engagement, the results of the engagement.

[00:31:03] Cornelia: And now, again, Um, it is very important that citizens, young people participate in the election to make really sure that these persons are in decision-making persons who take their interests, uh, uh, serious.

[00:31:22] Lana: Thank You, both Cornelia and Christiana, uh, for talking to us today about, uh, the importance of holistic view of participation, the importance of different tools, uh, but.

[00:31:35] Lana: Also the crucial aspects, such as the culture of participation, the responsiveness from the public authorities, uh, and inclusion of young people and all citizens in creating these tools and ensuring that the environment within which we participate is the one that is welcoming and open to young peoples input

[00:31:59] Ismael: [00:32:00] and with those thoughtful ending notes, we have reached an end to our episode. Thank you very much Christiana and Cornelia for participating in this podcast, and Lana for co-hosting this episode with me, and again, to all the listeners. Remember to follow us on Instagram @eucoeyouth to stay up to date with all our future content.

[00:32:18] Ismael: Thank you very much and see you next time.