Online youth participation
The rapid advance of Internet technologies and online environments gave promise to lower the barrier for young people to engage in civic affairs. Survey data concluded in the EU Youth report 2015 shows that virtual spaces frequented by young people can be compared to the physical ones and thus be “a great resource for political and social engagement, which young people have been the quickest to recognise and use.”
Such transformation requires new skills and tools to participate. Jaakko Jokipii, our first keynote speaker from Oulu, shared similar observations – using memes as his form of presentation.
“Young people have – through digital tools – more chances than ever to participate. Those chances are everywhere and in everything. We need to rethink our whole approach toward participation.” says Jaakko. This sparked further questions from the youth workers in the room: “How do you get into online communities and build relationships with the youngsters already there? Youth work is a lot about relations? Isn’t it?”
It’s all about identifying the needs of the participating individual.
According Jaakko, the starting point can be to explore what people want to have, what sense of belonging they seek to develop and what actions to carry on as a result of their involvement in a broader activities in society. Youth participation processes – like all youth work! – should ask the right questions; not about what young people want, but rather what they need, what they already have and how resources should be prioritised. In online participation – as in offline participation processes – it’s all about identifying the needs of the participating individual: Jaakko divided these into categories of “having”, “acting” and “belonging”.
A previously held Erasmus+ funded seminar focused on youth e-participation called #BePart – one that was also included in our background materials – collaborated to create their own working definition of e-participation. By their take e-participation was defined as “a transparent process, using the using the benefit of online tools to facilitate participation in decision making, sharing of opinions and contributing ideas & providing feedback.” These approaches to participation are a bit different in that the former is based in the needs of the individual and the latter is based more on the relationship between the young person and the civic society around him. While these viewpoints complement each other nicely, they also further illustrate the complexity inherent in almost all forms of digital youth work.
Our next keynote speaker Evaldas Rupkus shared his practical experience of EUth; a project aimed at developing e-participation. “If you are not sure how or even if the results of the participation process will be implemented, then it’s often better not to start the participation process at all.” says Evaldas. Their project develops innovative digital and mobile tools to enable and support youth participation. Evaldas encourages to view the digital aspect of youth work as a horizontal part of our work and not separate, and therefore suggests avoiding establishing the term “digital youth work”. He rather suggests to use the term “digital approach” in regards to youth work.
Damjan Tkalec, a participant from Croatia just recently started working in the P.O.I.N.T. Association where they want to make young people be more active in shaping local youth policy. They are currently developing the KA2 strategic partnership that aims to promote e-volunteering and active participation of young people in digital environments.
“I am excited about e-participation. I think it could be a fun way to get young people involved, for example through mobile apps. I think that digital youth work can create ways for young people to take their first steps into participating.”, says Damjan.
This is the 3rd part of the article “Taking youth work to the digital world”. This article is an outcome of the international seminar “Developing digital youth work”. The seminar was hosted 13 to 17 September 2016 in Oulu, Finland by the Centre of International Mobility (CIMO). This article was first published on Verke’s website. Continue to the previous part “Defining the concept of digital youth work” or the next part “Youth social media realities”.