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Structured dialogue: meeting of young people and youth policy makers is one of the types of projects within Key Activity 3 of the Erasmus+ programme in the field of youth. The aim of the structured dialogue projects is to promote civic participation of young people and foster discussions on the topics and priorities of the structured dialogue, as well as on youth policy. The structured dialogue is discussions between young people and youth policy makers in order to achieve results that are useful for policy-making. Debates are structured according to the topics and they must include events where young people can discuss the chosen topics among themselves and with decision-makers, experts and politicians in youth field.
The following activities may be organised within the structured dialogue projects:
national and international seminars in order to provide young people with an opportunity to discuss the topics of structured dialogue or EU Youth Strategy with policy makers;
national and international seminars in order to prepare for the EU Youth Conference organised by the country holding the EU presidency;
measures aimed at promoting discussions and information regarding youth policy topics included in the activities of the European Youth Week;
youth consultations in order to identify the needs of young people regarding issues related to participation in society (online consultations, surveys, etc.);
meetings, seminars, informative measures or debates among young people and decision-makers regarding democratic participation;
measures that stimulate the work of democratic institutions and roles of decision-makers.
The project activities are implemented by young people using the methods and principles of non-formal education.
Based on the Council Resolution of 27 November 2009 on a renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010–2018), as well as Youth Policy Guidelines for 2009–2018, a specific national work group was established for the implementation of the EU structured dialogue. The Head of the work group is the president of the National Youth Council of Latvia, the Deputy Head of the work group is Deputy Director in the Youth Field of the Political Initiatives and Development Department of the Ministry of Education and Science, and the members of the work group are members of:
The Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia,
youth affairs specialists of several local governments,
the Centre for Zemgale NGOs,
youth departments of the Latvian Red Cross,
Association “Latvijas Mazpulki”,
the National Centre for Education,
the Association for International Youth Programmes,
Association “Jauno līderu koalīcija”,
Association “Latvijas Pašvaldību savienības”,
the Students Union of Latvia,
the Sports and Youth Board of Education, Culture and Sports Department of Riga City Council,
the Political Initiatives and Development Department of the Ministry of Education and Science.
The mains tasks of the work group:
- to co-ordinate the implementation of the European Union structured dialogue process at the national level;
- to engage young people in the consultation process of the structured dialogue and clarify their views on the priorities laid down in the relevant Presidency Trio of the Council of the European Union using certain methodology set within the structured dialogue;
- to prepare recommendations for the national report on the process and outcomes of the structured dialogue within the relevant Presidency Trio of the Council of the European Union.
Information from the Youth Policy Implementation Plan for 2016–2020
In general, the participation of young people in Latvia is not high – only about ¼ of young people take part in social, community or interest activities on a regular basis (at least 12 times a year or at least once a month). The participation in cultural and entertaining activities (concerts, festivals, cinema, theatre, sports competitions, etc.) is a little higher – in total, 35% of young people take part in such activities at least once a month. 24% of young people participate in interest activities on a regular basis (hobby groups, interest groups and clubs beyond school). Only 10% of young people are active at school activities (self-governance bodies of school students or students, school events) and only 6% – in public and social activities (participation in non-governmental organisations, charity events, volunteering, litter clean-up activities, etc.). The activity of youth in political activities is the lowest (participation in the activities of political parties, political discussions, etc.) – only 2% of young people are engaged in such activities on a regular basis.
Over the last five years, slight changes have been observed in youth participation – the youth participation in cultural and entertainment, as well as interest activities has increased (+7% and +3% respectively), while the changes in participation in school, public and political activities are insignificant.
It is important to assess not only the active but also the inactive target group of young people, and, in this respect, it can be observed that there is a large proportion of young people who have not participated in any activities over the last year. Majority (60%) of young people have never participated in political activities, about 1/3 of young people – in school, public and social activities, but 1/4 – in interest activities. The proportion of young people engaged in cultural and entertaining activities is less than 1/10. At the same time, it has been observed that the share of inactive young people has decreased considerably over the last five years. The most significant fall (20%) has been in the proportion of young people who are not engaged in public and social activities. Likewise, the proportion of inactive youth in interest, school and political activities has decreased by at least 10%.
The research data shows that the opportunities for youth participation currently are much greater than their interest to participate. For instance, 76% of young people appreciate that they have an opportunity to join thematic online groups of peers, but only 44% express their interest to participate in them. Likewise, 53% of young people have an opportunity to join youth centres or organisations, but only 38% of them would like to do it. The situation is similar in case of social, public, political and non-governmental activities. Interest has not been higher than opportunities in any of the research categories.
When evaluating the proportion of young people who have both opportunities and interest in participation, it was observed that the proportion of persons interested in different kinds of activities is not larger than 1/4 of young people residing in Latvia. At the same time, the opportunities provided by the Internet increase the participation by up to 40%. It does not mean that the interest of youth is actual participation – the actual level of participation is significantly lower than the possible level (for instance, in general, 8% of young people appreciate that they have both opportunities and interest to participate in political activities, while only 2% of them do it on a regular basis)5.
In order to increase the youth participation, it is important to understand reasons for non-participation and possible ways of mitigating them. The research data shows that approximately half of young people name lack of time as the obstacle for participation, and this could be a difficult-to-overcome factor in promotion of the participation. At the same time, a significantly high proportion of young people – 40% – state that they are reluctant to participate in different activities as they do not have a personal interest to participate. This means that young people do not see personal benefits in participation. It is important that, irrespective of high availability of information in traditional and new media, one in four young people specify that they do not have sufficient information regarding participation options, which, in turn, points at the problems and challenges related to the process of informing young people.
Participation of young people in youth and other non-governmental organisations is a significant indicator of youth policy. One of the opportunities for active youth participation is youth organisations and associations working with young people. Information regarding youth organisations and associations working with young people and their lines of action is available to young people, for instance, on www.jaunatneslietas.lv where one can find the list of active youth organisations with information on 757 youth organisations and associations that work with young people. In order to introduce classification of youth organisations and divide youth organisations by the type of their activities, Cabinet Regulations No. 188 “Regulations on Data to be Included in the List of Youth Organisations and Procedures for Including Associations in the List of Youth Organisations” of 15 March 2011 have been elaborated and approved according to Section 6 Paragraph two of the Youth Law. Information on youth organisations can be found on the website of the MoES8.
According to the research data, around 1/3 of young people are members of an organisation or have been engaged in the activities of an organisation in another status. Over the last five years, the proportion of young people engaged in organisations has not changed significantly. Only 11% of young people participate in youth organisations. It is also important that only approximately 1/3 of young people can name a youth organisation.
One of the frequently mentioned reasons of low youth interest and activity in social, public and political activities is low trust in public and political institutions. It is doubtful whether that is the most important factor for youth participation, however, the trust placed in institutions by young people indicates a certain correlation. In general, trust of young people in such institutions as the Saeima, the President, the Prime Minister, public bodies, local authorities is very low – the proportion of young people who place trust in the said institutions does not exceed 1/3. More young people place their trust in the Armed Forces of Latvia, youth organisations, EU and educational system, however, even in the case of these institutions, the trust indicator does not exceed 50%. The trust indicators are significantly higher among 13–15 year old young people, while young people aged 20–25 are significantly more critical in their evaluations. It can be also observed that the trust evaluations are more positive among youth in regions, but more negative – among youth in Riga.
On the basis of the research regarding participation conducted in Latvia, four essential problems encountered by youth in the field of participation are highlighted:
- Low motivation of young people (lack of interest in available information) to participate in social, political activities and activities of youth non-governmental organisations and leisure activities both at the national and EU level.
- Insufficient capacity of local government youth centres and youth non-governmental organisations in youth work.
- Insufficient provision of culture and leisure activities (especially in regions and outside large cities) for the target group of young people.
- Insufficient participation of youth in volunteering.
“Coffee with Politicians” is a method, the main aim of which is to foster the dialogue between youth and decision-makers (deputies, local government staff, heads of institutions).
When organizing a dialogue between young people and decision-makers of different levels, it is important to create an environment and space where open discussion of interested parties about the issues that are important for all participants is possible. “Coffee with Politicians” is a method of participation created in Sweden and adapted to the situation in Latvia; the aim of the method is to provide an opportunity to both of the interested parties – youth and politicians – to meet each other, get acquainted and discuss issues that are topical for young people. For young people, it is often the first opportunity to address decision-makers directly and immediately, tell them about important matters and ask questions, while for politicians, in their turn, it is an opportunity to hear about matters topical for young people from the “primary source” – young people themselves.
“Coffee with Politicians” is a specifically organised and prepared afternoon event where young people and decision-makers meet one another at a coffee and tea table to discuss a certain topic, listen to one another’s standpoint and develop new ideas or look for solutions to existing problems together.
“Coffee with Politicians” is a platform for informal talks in casual atmosphere where people talk to one another like people of the same rank. The talks are moderated (there is a single moderator) and structured (various discussion methods are used, for instance world cafe, open discussion, etc.).
Both youth and representatives of local governments are prepared by identifying and preparing topical issues. The topics of the conversation of youth and politicians may be chosen at the beginning of the event when participants agree upon them together.
Before each discussion, it is important to clarify the topics, which the participants would like to talk about and which are topical for them. It can be a very specific question or project in the relevant local government, for which the opinion and ideas of youth are necessary, for instance, elaboration of the development plan of the local government or development of a Youth Home. Most often, young people wish to talk about youth employment, possible ways of spending their leisure time, infrastructure of the local government, outflow of young people.
As a result, young people participating in “Coffee with Politicians” become acquainted with the work of local governments and decision-makers, gain an opportunity to tell about important issues and ask questions immediately. Politicians, in their turn, gain insight into the actual situation and the needs of young people.
The method “Coffee with Politicians” is an excellent way for both young people and politicians to overcome stereotypes, gain positive experience of communication and working together. After discussions, young people often say the following: “I did not expect that we can also do something to get things better!”, while decision-makers conclude – “We did not know that young people in our municipality are so active and willing to participate!”.
“Coffee with Politicians” is an efficient method of overcoming the gap of prejudice and lack of knowledge, creating space and room for cooperation.
The National Youth Council of Latvia in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science and other stakeholders ensure implementation of European Commission structural dialogue in Latvia organizing national consultations with young people about priorities in the field of youth put forward by the Presidency Trio of the European Council. The National Youth Council of Latvia chairs a national work group of the European Commission structural dialogue.
The structured dialogue measures in Latvia gain popularity and recognition – it is an opportunity for young people to express their opinion and participate in decision-making.