BLOG: The importance of youth participation

20 October 2022
The method of SSE bases it analyses
of issues and stakeholders on interests. Not  power, status or point of view, but interests form the base.
Young people have enormous interests when it
comes to decisions that affect the future. This group will have to live longest with the societal decisions that are being made today. The energy transition, the tax system, the housing market, the development of education; these are all topics that will determine the futures of societies at large. A future in which the young people will have to work and live the longest. Therefore, this group, which roughly makes up a quarter to a third of societies these days, should be an important stakeholder. And according to the SSE-method, young people should have a seat at the table.

Young people do not only have an interest because of their future. They are already a large share of society today. These young people are experts of their own lives and they bring a lot of knowledge. They arrive at the table with their own unique points of view that can only enrich the dialogue. They have more to offer to these processes. They have a fresh perspective and dare to think outside of the existing frameworks, since they do not have much experience (yet) with these frameworks. They are not yet being held back by ‘failed’ attempts of the past, distorted relations or nostalgic feelings when everything was better.
And: young people are crucial for a support base and the implementation of an agreement and therefore should be a determining factor in the outcome of an SSE-process.

Still I have not often seen young people as a stakeholder in my career to date. Why are young people often not recognized as an important stakeholder? And how can young people be meaningfully included in these processes?

The word ‘meaningful’ is especially important. Young people are often included to check the boxes. Tokenism in youth participation unfortunately still happens too often, knowing or unknowingly. In order to make participation of young people meaningful more is needed. A young person arrives at the table with different experiences than for example a retiree.
During this process young people have different needs than other participants and  the facilitator should carefully take this into consideration.

In preparation for stakeholder processes chances are that the youth that has been invited
has not participated in a dialogue session, a stakeholder meeting or any other participation platform before. Therefore it is important to lower the threshold for participants by offering
support with preparation. The preparation should focus on both the content as well as the process. With regards to content the focus should be on the accessibility of information that is not filled with heavy jargon or thick policy language. With regards to process, it is important that they know what they can expect.

During the process it is important that young people experience an opportunity for stating
their opinion or feelings in order for them to participate as an equal partner. At the same time, they are developing themselves. It is a chance for them to further develop their (professional) skills, such as listening, asking questions, expressing your opinion and build a relevant professional network. It also offers young people the opportunity to discover what their values and interest are. Attention for and guidance with these subjects can make the participation meaningful for themselves as well.

Other conditions: there are other practical preconditions necessary in order to include young people in a meaningful way. For example, think about reimbursement of travel expenses, the location, the time of day and the investment of time during the process. Is it possible to reach the location easily with public transport? Is online participation possible? Taking part in a participation process takes time. Young people often go to school, have a parttime job, play sports and have an active social live: are there possibilities to compensate young people for their time and commitment in the form of a financial compensation or study compensation?

Including young people as a stakeholder in SSE-processes is highly valuable, but it does
take extra attention, time and resources to do this in a meaningful way for all parties involved.

Author: Steffie Bes