Youth Meaningful Participation: 8 rungs to the meaningful engagement
Starting with the lowest level of youth participation.
Rung 1 – Manipulation: projects or activities that are entirely designed and run by adults. It is conveyed and pretended that the causes presented in the event are inspired by young people, while, in fact, children and youth are barely getting any meaningful roles for that event, for example, children or youth’s performances that are purely guided by adults, young people holding political signs without understanding the context and their action, and the news titled ‘Youth action for climate change’ while there is no details on how youth involve in that event or mostly mentioned as run by adult ‘officials’.
Rung 2 – Decoration: refers to the occasions when young people are used to help or promote the cause without them understanding about it. The difference from the first rung is that adults do not pretend that the causes are inspired by young people, for example, young people are invited to the event for refreshments, wear a t-shirt and take a photo without them knowing what is the context of the issues they participate in.
Rung 3 – Tokenism: young people appear to be given a voice, with little or no options for participating in the subjects. They barely have the opportunity to formulate their own opinions. The voice or inputs proposed are not seriously taken forward into the decision-making process or no feedback to the proposal at all, for example, an event invite young influencer to join the workshop with the other youths and discuss about the cause but there is no explanation of background on the topic or clear representation of each participants, the next day, the news posted the event with the focus only on the influencer and no mention about other young people’s involvement and inputs related to the youth voice given to the process.
Rung 4 – Assigned but informed: this is the level that young people are assigned to a specific role and being informed about details on intention of projects, who made the decisions related to their involvement and why, being put in meaningful role rather than decorative ones either as functional or symbolic purpose, and volunteer to the project after the details are well-informed to them, for example, young people are assigned to their works as supporting information for the discussion process or advocating for emerging topics to gain attention and convince stakeholders on issues that most impacted to them which might lead to the adoption of certain issues or practices.Rung 5 – Consulted and informed: happens when young people are consulted and provide advice to the adult which they know that the inputs are taken seriously through the adult-led process and outcomes are made by the adults, for example, youth are invited to participate in a consultation workshop where youth inputs are taken into account for the formulation of a transportation roadmap for the city. Youth also get informed about the background and have enough time to prepare their inputs to propose at the meeting. However, the final call of the roadmap and its operation will be made by adults after.
Rung 6 – Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people: of course, not all types of community development projects can be initiated by people from all ages. However, it is crucial to ensure participatory processes are implemented with involvement of various groups in particular of young, elderly and vulnerable groups. This rung occurs when the projects are initiated by adults but young people take part and share their decision together with adults, for example, a company is having a budget to organize community activities with youth in the local area. Youth are invited to take part in the planning and implementation of the workshops. Youth get to make decisions on communication materials and workshop facilitation together with adults resulting in collaborative outputs and outcomes for the projects.Rung 7 – Young people-initiated and directed: this happens when young people initiate their own projects by having adults play supportive roles to those youth-led projects. It was also found that usually adults are bad at responding to young people’s initiatives as it is hard for them not to jump in, suggesting safe solutions, stopping inappropriate actions in their view or, sometimes, even take charge which if improperly executed, might become an obstacle for young people to learn, feel empowered, and show their potentials and creative skills, for example, a youth club decided to organize a camp with their peers at the university about LGBTI+. Young people have taken a lead on formulating ideas, proposals and implementation, adults are being supportive by providing resources either as financial or resource persons and logistics to make their ideas/projects come true.
Rung 8 – Young people-initiated, shared decisions with adults: is the top level of participation as young people are able to use their aspiration and creativity to initiate projects that most respond to their purposes and needs by still including adults in the shared decision-making process. This way of participation does not only allow youth to fully exercise their ability, but learn and develop themselves from working with experienced adults on relevant skills and topics, for example, a group of young people created a project helping the youth community who struggled from the impact of COVID19. The youth group has created the proposal and taken the lead of the project while still inviting adults to be part of the team and share decisions on implementation together. In the meantime, youth get to learn how to best operationalized the project and resources. The youth team also learnt management skills and getting more networks from working with the adults which will benefit them in the long-run after this project.
From all of the participation levels presented, it is not necessary that young people always must apply the highest possible rungs of the ladder. Different children and youth have different times, responsibilities, preferences and constraints that allow them to be involved at a certain degree of participation. The important principle is that programmes should be designed which maximize the opportunity for any young people to choose to participate at the highest level of their ability at that moment.
UNDP Thailand understands the importance of youth participation and has been working with youth on various topics covering civic engagement, economic empowerment, and change agent for SDGs. Check out more details about the UNDP Youth Strategy at https://bit.ly/3BZyx7S