5.4 Young people's participation in policy-making
On this page
On this page
The participation of young people in policy-making falls into six categories:
- Self-organisation, youth associations (Jugendverbände)/youth councils (Jugendringe) (see 5.3)
- Representative participation formats and (school) student unions (see 5.3)
- Open participation formats, e.g. youth forums and conferences
- Targeted and project-oriented formats, such as the Y7 youth summit (Y7-Jugendgipfel) in 2022. Around 50 young people attended the youth summit in the lead-up to the G7 summit in Germany
- Involvement in institutions in the adult world, e.g. steering and advisory committees in public administration, urban development planning, etc.
- Lobbying models under which adults stand up for young peoples' interests.
These formats all have different objectives, time frames for participation, and approaches to selecting and representing participating children and young people. They also offer different levels of participation, from advisory roles and partnerships to self-directed participation by children or young people.
Youth participation is a cornerstone of (child and youth) policy-making in Germany. The legal bases for youth participation are given in depth in the section "Definitions and concepts". They include:
- The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child referring to the fundamental right of participation in Section 12 (1). The UN Convention gives children and young people the right to express their views freely in all matters that affect them. Their views must be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child or young person.
- Section 1 of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB) saying: "The legal capacity of a human being begins on the completion of birth."
- In Germany, the right of petition is a basic right in Section 17 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG): "Every person shall have the right individually or jointly with others to address written requests or complaints to competent authorities and to the legislature."
- The right to freedom of expression has been part of the Basic Law (Section 5) since it first took effect: "Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures [...]."
- Book 8 of the Social Code – Children and Youth Services (Sozialgesetzbuch Achtes Buch – Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, SGB VIII), Section 8 (1) saying that children and young people must be involved in decisions by public-sector youth services that affect them, in line with their level of development. Additional paragraphs relevant to youth participation are Section 1 (1) and (3), Section 9 (2) and Section 11 (1).
- Federal Building Code (Baugesetzbuch, BauGB) Section 1 (6) sentence 3 requiring the needs of young people to be considered.
- Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz, BetrVG) Section 60 on youth and apprentice representation.
At regional (Länder) level it is the implementation acts as laid down in Book 8 of the Social Code (Achtes Buch Sozialgesetzbuch, SGB VIII), the state constitutions and the school acts (Schulgesetze) that form the basis for youth participation in the federal states.
At local level (boroughs, communities), youth participation might be guaranteed through the local constitutions of the states, the municipal codes, district regulations or district administration acts.
Guidelines and quality standards for child and youth participation
- Quality standards for child and youth participation (Qualitätsstandards für Kinder- und Jugendbeteiligung) (2022)
Some federal states have developed their own quality standards for youth participation, e.g.
- Bavaria with its quality standards for child and youth participation in towns and municipalities (Mitwirkung von Kindern und Jugendlichen in den Städten und Gemeinden)
- Hamburg-Altona with its check list for the implementation of quality standards for child and youth participation (Checkliste zur Umsetzung der Qualitätsstandards für die Beteiligung von Kindern und Jugendlichen)
- Thuringia by its quality standards for child and youth participation in youth work and youth organisation work and in municipalities (Qualitätsstandards für die Beteiligung von jungen Menschen in der Jugendarbeit und Jugendverbandsarbeit sowie in Kommunen)
You'll find an overview of community guidelines for public participation on the civic participation website (Netzwerk Bürgerbeteiligung). In 2019, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit, BMU) published its own guidelines on good civic participation.
Participation levels and methods
At all levels, young people were and are involved in developing and designing different strategies. This takes place in online and offline consultations. Young people are repeatedly consulted when it comes to the updating and evaluation of the strategies. Examples of strategies where young people were involved:
These notably include the federal government's joint Youth Strategy (Jugendstrategie) containing 163 measures across all federal ministries in nine youth-related action areas. A main aim of the government's Youth Strategy is to enable the direct, visible and effective participation of young people in the Youth Strategy. This means giving them specific opportunities to be heard and to take action. A range of formats involving young people as experts in matters that affect them are designed to ensure as many young people with wide-ranging perspectives as possible participate in developing the Youth Strategy.
The YouthPolicyDays are held every two years and offer approximately 1,000 young people a forum for dialogue with the Federal Government and networking. Findings are fed into further development of the Federal Government’s youth strategy and the National Action Plan for Child and Youth Participation. The Federal Government provides specific feedback on the young participants’ recommendations. The Federal Youth Conference takes place every two years, alternating with the YouthPolicyDays, and is also a key component for participation at federal level to facilitate dialogue between youth and politics and to further promote youth policy awareness in politics and administration. The focus is on working groups looking at current youth policy challenges, in which a total of around 200 young people and representatives of the federal ministries enter into direct exchange. A youth team is closely involved in the preparation and implementation of the events.
These are some examples of opportunities for direct participation. No youth advisory board exists with the direct participation of young people. However, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) set up an advisory committee on the government's Youth Strategy (Jugendstrategie) that involves civil society organisations and representatives of youth interests.
At regional (Länder) level young people were involved in
- developing the JES! youth strategy to help implement the Independent Youth Policy (Eigenständige Jugendpolitik) in Rhineland-Palatinate via the RLP youth forum (jugendforum RLP), the former "Good youth policy" blog (Gute Jugendpolitik) and dialogue-based events.
- developing integrative youth policy in North Rhine-Westphalia through dialogue with young people at various youth conferences and the "Rethink – think young – fresh ideas for NRW" (umdenken – jungdenken! Frische Ideen für NRW) initiative.
- developing Thuringia's state strategy on youth participation, adopted in March 2019. Thuringia consulted young people during the development of the strategy. It held Youth Talks to give young people aged 10 to 18 the opportunity to say their views on participation and discuss the plans of the interdisciplinary working group in charge of developing the strategy. Thuringia's youth strategy includes a mission statement, minimum standards for participation, objectives and measures.
- implementing Saxony-Anhalt's sustainability strategy. The "Young people shape the future" (Jugend Macht Zukunft) project involves young people in shaping the sustainability strategy. The outcomes are summarised in a final report. The young participants presented their demands to Saxony-Anhalt's Minister President Dr Reiner Haseloff.
- the work of the social committee (Sozialausschuss) in the State Parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania via a series of consultations looking at what it was like to be a young person in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Jung sein in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) in 2019.
- In Bavaria, there has been a master concept to strengthen the participation of children and young people since 2022, supplemented by the website Kinder + Jugend Partizipation. The aim of the master concept is to provide further impetus for strengthening the participation of children and young people in all areas of life that affect them by means of a comprehensive cross-departmental approach at state (Land) level. A special focus is placed on strengthening the participation of socially disadvantaged or individually impaired young people, as well as children and young people with disabilities.
Young people have many opportunities to participate in their local area. For example, at the end of 2018 the district of Giessen set up an initiative called "Youth policy for the great places of tomorrow: youth-friendly towns, cities and boroughs – making Giessen more youth friendly" (Jugendpolitik für die guten Orte von morgen: Jugendgerechte Städte und Gemeinden – jugendgerechter Landkreis Gießen). The initiative offers advice to young people and funds projects and programmes to promote youth participation.
Methods for consulting young people range from youth parliaments, local youth councils, allotment of dedicated office hours for young people by local politicians, youth advisory boards and youth fora, conferences and hearings to round tables, participation projects and the participation of young people in online and offline public dialogue.
Youth participation in political decision-making processes is open to all young people, including young people with fewer opportunities and young people with a migrant background. Public measures also have the aim to increase the diversity of participants.
Some key public authorities represented in youth consultation processes are:
- the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ), as well as other federal ministries,
- the ministries in charge of youth affairs (Jugendministerien) of the federal states,
- the Local Government Associations at Federal Level (Bundesvereinigung der kommunalen Spitzenverbände) and
- the statutory institutions in the field of youth services as members of the youth service committees (Jugendaushilfeausschüsse).
Other actors in participation processes are:
- The German Federal Youth Council, (Der Deutsche Bundesjugendring) DBJR, especially with the EU Youth Dialogue,
- State student councils, (Landesschülervertretungen),
- Alliance for Democracy and Tolerance - Against Extremism and Violence (Bündnis für Demokratie und Toleranz - gegen Extremismus und Gewalt) with its peer network "JETZT - jung, engagiert, vernetzt" (NOW - young, committed, interconnected), an association of committed young people between the ages of 16 and 23 from all over Germany,
- German Children and Youth Foundation (Deutsche Kinder- und Jugendstiftung) DKJS.
Apart from that Germany also has ombudsmen (Bürgerbeauftragte) who also represent the interests of young people and listen to their needs when requested, e.g. in
Many local authorities have local youth commissioners (Jugendbeauftragte) who are usually members of the local council. Their job is to represent the concerns voiced by young people and local child and youth work organisations to the local council. The local youth commissioners guide the participation of young people and are thus an important point of contact between young people and local politics. One example of this is Bavaria: Since 2002, almost all regions of Bavaria have appointed youth commissioners to look after the concerns of local children and young people.
Generally speaking, participative processes include the documentation of the number and age of participants and the scope of demands and action recommendations that are developed as a result of these processes. All information is made available to the public. Where participation takes place online, it is more difficult to collect information on the participants as they often take part anonymously. No central office currently exists that records the extent of all government-run youth participation processes.
Below are examples of now-complete participation processes or events and how the outcomes were used at federal level.
- youpaN (since 2017), implemented by the German education foundation (Stiftung Bildung)
youpaN gets young people involved in implementing the National Action Plan on Education for Sustainable Development (Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung, BNE). The foundation launched the forum at youcoN in summer 2017. The forum members are made up of 25 young people and young adults aged from 16 to 23. So far, the forum has put forward eight demands relating to youth participation and BNE.
- 2019 Youth Policy Days (JugendPolitikTage), organised by BMFSFJ
450 young people gathered for this three-day event to help develop the government's joint Youth Strategy. Attendees collected recommendations and positions in the areas of towns and villages; education and work; coexistence and democracy; and environment and health. The event's slogan was "What we want" (Was wir wollen).
- Youth audits (Jugend-Audits) in 2019 to help develop the government's Youth Strategy (Jugendstrategie), organised by the Foundation for the Social Pedagogical Institute Berlin "Walter May" (Stiftung Sozialpädagogisches Institut Berlin "Walter May", Stiftung SPI)
In 2019, young people and young adults carried out three youth audits on behalf of BMFSFJ. Each audit involved between 15 and 22 young individuals. They looked at mobility; digitalisation; education and work; free spaces; the environment; diversity; and participation. Participants discussed different perspectives and drew up action areas.
A youth check (Jugend-Check) was developed on a national level. This was agreed in the coalition agreement (Koalitionsvetrag) of the ruling parties (2013-2017). In August 2017, the German Research Institute for Public Administration (Deutsches Forschungsinstitut für öffentliche Verwaltung) began setting up the youth check competence centre (Kompetenzzentrum Jugend-Check, KomJC). The youth check aims to make visible the impact that proposed legislation will have on young people aged from 12 to 27 and incorporate the findings into the legislative process. The idea to introduce a youth check came about during discussions on an Independent Youth Policy (Eigenständige Jugendpolitik). It was based on the realisation that young people's concerns rarely get the attention they deserve in political processes.
During the 19th legislative period (2017-2021), 543 draft laws from 11 of the 14 federal ministries were examined for youth relevance and 126 youth checks were published. The youth check therefore shows that the concerns of young people must be considered across all ministries.
The Competence Centre Youth Check (ComYC) also shares its experiences as an example of good practice at international events. https://www.jugend-check.de/blog/2022/05/13/rueckblick-konferenz-zu-jugend-checks/
The youth check itself is not an instrument for participation. However, participation formats such as the youth audit (Jugend-Audit) collect experiences from the many different living situations faced by young people to help further develop the youth check. Young people give feedback on the audit tool or on the findings of individual youth checks. The competence centre uses the findings to continually improve the youth check methodology. The aim of this ongoing development is to appropriately reflect the everyday realities faced by young people.
In 2022, Thuringia became the first federal state to introduce a youth check for the state’s legislation.
The EU Youth Dialogue involves young people in implementing the EU Youth Strategy. Dialogues between young people and policymakers are a key component of this.Youth dialogue (Jugenddialog) is a platform by the German Federal Youth Council (Deutscher Bundesjugendring) giving young people the opportunity to talk to policymakers about their concerns and wishes. Youth dialogue takes place at all levels and in many formats: at EU youth conferences, in Europe-wide surveys, in national events, in projects run by local youth associations (Jugendverbände), or at neighbourhood events.
For 18 months at a time, the focus is on one priority topic, which is discussed and worked on in several phases. Implementation of the EU Youth Dialogue in Germany is coordinated by the German Federal Youth Council (Deutscher Bundesjugendring).
The mitmischen.de portal of the German parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) is a direct line between young people and the German parliament. Young people can use the portal to give their opinions, discuss political topics and submit online petitions.
Regional (Länder) level
A youth action programme ran from 2017 to 2019 called Shaping the future together – 20 participation projects for Hesse (Gemeinsam Zukunft gestalten – 20 Partizipationsprojekte für Hessen, ProgrammP) with total funding of up to 1,100,000 euros. It offered non-curricular youth education activities to promote participation by young people.
The youth participation programme Jugend BeWegtin Baden-Württemberg aims to promote and integrate child and youth participation in local communities for the long term. Local communities and associations of towns and communities that wish to implement and support youth participation locally can apply for programme funding. The programme aims to strengthen existing approaches, pool experiences and establish a long-lasting network of local communities/associations of towns and communities. The key element of the project is supportive coaching on participation. The programme is managed jointly by the youth organisation of Baden-Württemberg (Landesjugendring Baden-Württemberg) and the youth foundation of Baden-Württemberg (Jugendstiftung Baden-Württemberg).
The Youth participation resource centre of North Rhine-Westphalia (Servicestelle für Kinder- und Jugendbeteiligung in Nordrhein-Westfalen) mainly helps politicians and youth service/youth work experts to implement participation projects. Other services include advice on planned new participation projects in towns and boroughs, and moderation, mediation or in-house training and long-term process support.
Democracy days (Demokratie-Tage) are for young people who want to play an active part in shaping their environments, and for educators and parents interested in learning and living democracy (Demokratie lernen und leben). In 2018, they are held – amongst others – in Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and Hesse.
The participation network (Beteiligungsnetzwerk) run by the regional youth council of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Landesjugendring Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) has been promoting child and youth participation since 2001. It guides, advises and trains employees from public administration, politics, schools, youth work and youth organisations, as well as children and young people, on planning and implementing participation processes and projects.