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Based on the ‘News’ (in Finnish) by the Ministry of Justice, the draft of the new National Democracy Programme for the years 2020-2025 was presented for comments on February 14th 2020. The programme is cross-sectoral with an idea of strengthening the involvement of citizens and new kinds of communication between the decision-makers and citizens. Democracy is also seen as a core element in all public structures and processes. In the programme, a part entitled ‘Democracy and human rights education and participation of young people’ will be dedicated entirely to young people.
The Health, Social Services and Regional Government Reform will entail — even currently, when in the state of being postponed and replanned — a remarkTable change the share of work between the municipalities and the state in organising public services (more information see Youth Wiki/Finland 7.8 Current debates and reforms). For example, from the point of view of youth participation, the reform will mean that youth councils will also be established at the regional level.
Former ombudsman for children, Tuomas Kurttila, has insisted that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health immediately start court hearings for the young people who are being taken care of in state-owned reform schools (Bulletin 2/2018, available in Finnish). The request stems from the reports published in autumn 2018 claiming that some of those institutions have serious weaknesses in terms of the quality of the care, and therefore suggest that proper and systemic hearings for young people could have had already a long-term impact on the prevention of such discrepancies in quality.
There is currently a lack of research that focuses specifically on youth participation in legislative consultation processes. An ongoing sub-study in the ALL-YOUTH research project (2018-2023) aims to fill this gap and focuses specifically on how, if at all, young people have participated in the formal consultation process of amending the General Upper Secondary School Act (Act in Finnish) in 2016 and 2018, and the Climate Act (in Finnish) in 2019 and 2020. The preliminary findings of the study on Secondary School Act suggest that the views that young people put forth in the hearing process did not have an identifiable influence on its regulation, nor were their opinions reflected in the summary of the consultation. Additionally, the study on the Climate Act found that young people are concerned about climate change but lack the knowledge on how to participate in legislative processes. These are in line with Vesa and Kantola’s (2016, in Finnish) findings, which suggest that children and young people are generally under-represented in the formal consultation processes even in cases where the legislation particularly concerns youths and affects their lives.
The sub-project has also developed new co-research practices with young people. For example, a project course with a focus on legislative writing was run in upper secondary school. During the course of this project, new practices were developed with the young people, such as, how to conduct an impact assessment on the execution of the law (see more in Finnish Heiskanen, Viljanen & Meriläinen 2018). A group of young people studied the impact assessment process in order to analyse how the City of Tampere has executed paragraphs 8 and 24 of the Youth Act, concerning youth centres and official participation models. Research with the students on vocational schools aims to teach how to participate in democratic processes, such as in legislative processes. More broadly the aim is to create models for upper secondary school and vocational education that can be easily adopted nation-wide.
Additionally, ongoing sub-studies in the ALL-YOUTH research project focus on the relationship between youth participation and digital services. Results include an analysis on young people’s experiences of using the existing digital platforms designed for the societal participation of citizens (lausuntopalvelu.fi, nuortenideat.fi) from the perspective of accessibility. Findings indicate that the language used in the consultation processes is very complex and creates a barrier (see Meriläinen, Pietilä & Varsaluoma 2018). Moreover, the digital platforms remain unfamiliar to teachers and young people alike.
These sub-studies aim to provide guidelines that can be used to improve the accessibility and usability of the existing digital services available to and targeted at the youth. Furthermore, the aim is to develop and test, together with young people and other stakeholders, new innovative digital models and services such as the Virtual Council.
The ALL-YOUTH-research project is funded by the Strategic Research Council under Academy of Finland. An important element of such ”strategic” research is the active collaboration between those who produce new knowledge and those who use it, there is a lot of co-operation for example with the government when choosing the themes for research projects.
The Health, Social Services and Regional Goverment Reform will entail a remarkable change the share of work between the municipalities and the state in organising public services (more information see Youth Wiki/Finland 1.9 Current debates and reforms). For example, from the point of view of youth participation, the reform will mean that youth councils will also be established at the regional level.