Young people want to be more involved in making positive change happen in society, but they don’t know how to achieve this.
HAVE YOU EVER discussed something of real importance to society and thought that something should be done about it? Politicians and commentators often bemoan the apathy of the Irish public towards politics.
Most often, it is the youth of Ireland that are accused of disinterest in current societal issues. However, as we saw with the marriage referendum, when an issue is important to the youth of Ireland, they are capable of driving social and political change. The non-partisan, grass-roots nature of that campaign allowed young people to get involved politically without getting involved with political parties.
REJECTING THE SYSTEM
Previous low electoral turnouts have been interpreted as apathy – rather than a rejection of what was on offer. Una Mulally has astutely pointed out, that in the fallout from the economic crisis and year upon year of the same responses from politicians, it’s no wonder that young people are rejecting the system that has left us with so few opportunities. When discussing the hugely positive participation of the youth of Ireland in the marriage referendum campaign, we wondered whether our young people needed the opportunity to engage with social issues outside the realm of party politics more often. It seemed that people are not apathetic about politics, they are just apathetic about politicians.
A review of the literature reveals multiple institutional barriers to engagement in politics by young people. This includes the lack of focus on politics and civic participation in our education system, the absence of easy ways of finding out more about these outside of the educational context and a narrow focus on voting as political participation. This suggests that new ways of engaging the youth of Ireland with decision-making and social change are needed.
DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT
This summer my friends and I were given the chance to engage in the Ideas Collective, a programme developed by Suas, a charity focused on educational development, which allows young people bring their ideas to reality.
Where people often talk about problems in society and come up with great ideas that rarely leave the lunch room, we had the chance to develop one of our ideas and with expert advice turn it into action.
Inspired by three great Irish examples which have used the possibilities of online citizen engagement in different ways, Dáilwatch, Uplift and Smartvote, we began to identify existing barriers to participation and think about what we could develop to counteract these. Since we felt this would need to have a deeply participatory spirit to it, we surveyed our target audience. This revealed two important points – young people want to be more involved in making positive change happen in society, but they don’t know how to achieve this.
We needed to create a platform that was easy to use, incorporating engaging ways of learning about how change happens in Irish society and a way of advancing from discussions of these ideas online to developing these conversations further offline and turning them into action.
With this in mind, we developed KEY Ideas + Decisions. This is a new civic engagement initiative created by young people for the young people of Ireland. This non-partisan initiative consists of online activities, including our website and social media presence, and offline activities which will include carefully designed participatory workshops and any action instigated by the participants of these workshops.
It will provide a space for people to inform themselves in a quick, easy and engaging manner about how change happens, and discuss the societal issues that are important to them. The workshops will focus on specific issues and our facilitators will guide our participants in creating an action plan to tackle this issue.
We plan to launch KEY Ideas + Decisions by the end of October.
We are lucky in Ireland to have such an intelligent, creative and educated young population. The outcomes of the Ideas Collective programme shows that when young people are given an opportunity to develop their ideas and contribute to society – they will.
Chris Noone is a PhD Candidate in the School of Psychology at NUI Galway. His work focuses on the mechanisms underlying effective critical thinking. Chris is passionate about citizen engagement and is hoping to further his knowledge and experience of this area. He took part in The Ideas Collective Programme delivered by Suas, Summer 2015.