Youth participation in public life can now be measured

Ukraine develops its Youth Participation Index

The approach to assessing the situation of young people has been changed for the first time since Ukraine gained independence. From now on, the state will measure the extent to which young people are responsible and able to influence the life of their country, rather than just assessing whether or not they have housing and jobs. The activity of young people can be measured using a simple, clear and objective tool — the Youth Participation Index.

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The Ukrainian Youth and Sports Ministry, together with the UN Development Programme, has developed a Youth Participation Index. This tool completely changes the approach to monitoring youth participation in public life. In effect, it serves as an indicator of change in the civic consciousness of young citizens. After all, Ukraine is gradually shaking off the colonial and totalitarian legacy of the Soviet Union, where any civic action was mandatory and planned.

In contrast, in a democratic society citizens participate in public life of their own accord and out of personal conviction, shaping the future of their country “with their own hands.”
In addition, an assessment of youth participation could be a strong argument for a well-thought-out and effective youth policy. After all, it involves feedback from various youth movements, initiatives, NGOs and those who work directly with young people. It is this measurable feedback, provided by those at whom youth policy is targeted, that allows one to develop youth policy, tapping into current data.

It is envisaged that such data will be collected in regular social surveys of young people aged 16 to 35. The questionnaires will contain 24 questions provisionally divided into four groups.

Political participation of young people: Do young people follow the news about political developments? Do they participate in presidential, parliamentary and local elections?
Participation in organized forms of civil society: Do they take part in the activities of NGOs, political parties, advisory bodies, and youth centres, and do they engage in volunteering activities?

Youth mobility: How mobile are young people at the regional, national and global levels? Do they intend to emigrate, and how strong are these intentions?

The self-organization of young people: Are young people ready to stand up for their rights, sign petitions and refuse to consume certain goods and services for political or environmental reasons?

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Each question can be answered on a provisional scale of 0 to 3: from “I am not aware of my opportunities, I do not feel the need to participate or I refuse to do it” to “I am aware of my opportunities, I feel the need to participate, but have not made up my mind about it yet” to the affirmative answer of “I participate”. After processing the collected data, respondents will be divided into three groups: the cluster of “excluded,” the cluster of “indecisive” and the cluster of those who participate.

This division into clusters creates a completely new approach to planning and evaluating programmes and projects aimed at boosting participation. Young people from the “excluded” cluster need to be specifically informed about their opportunities and be shown the benefits and advantages of participating in public life. Those from the “indecisive” cluster can be enticed by simplified and detailed ways of participation and arguments that their decisions really matter. And finally, active young people from the last cluster need diverse and advanced participation options.

It will be premature to open a youth centre in a town where only a small number of people are interested in the activities of NGOs, volunteering and participating in various rallies or participatory budgeting projects because people will be indifferent to it. Before opening a youth centre one should inform people of their opportunities, hold lectures and discussions, and conduct pilot youth projects. In this case, the stage will be set and people will be looking forward to the opening of the centre.

The methodology for compiling the Youth Participation Index was verified using data from the 2018 Youth of Ukraine annual survey conducted by the Ukrainian Youth and Sports Ministry and provided by the State Institute of Family and Youth Policy.

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Index values range between 0 and 100. Values between 0 to 25 indicate the “excluded” cluster, values between 25 to 50 indicate the “indecisive” cluster, while values 50+ refer to those who participate. Data processing has revealed that the average value of the Youth Participation Index in Ukraine is 31.1, meaning that most young people in Ukraine from the “indecisive” group are gradually migrating to the group of “those who are making up their minds.” More specifically, 56.2 percent of those surveyed do not participate, are unaware of their opportunities or do not participate, 27.1 percent are still making up their minds, and only 16.7 percent participate.

This index is indeed a clear and reasonably simple tool that shows on one slide those areas in which people are reluctant to take part in public life. Barriers to participation are identified using additional information about a person’s gender identity, type of populated area, income, whether or not the person has children, the person’s age, education, nationality, and the language that person uses for communication. These precise data allow one to draw up targeted programmes and offer solutions that will open up opportunities and remove barriers.

The developed methodology is in line with available data on values surveys in Ukraine. Among other things, it is in line with the World Values Survey launched by U.S. professor Ronald Inglehart. The results of the last wave of the survey were presented in Ukraine in late 2020.

The questionnaire of the Youth Participation Index also contains questions about self-organization. This is very indicative, because post-material values manifest themselves through self-organization. Thus, despite their Soviet totalitarian legacy, today young people in Ukraine feel closer to democratic values, such as tolerance, freedom and human rights. Such values are shared by middle-class citizens in most European countries.

The index has made it possible to “measure” the extent to which young people are democratized. Therefore, it is quite natural to forecast that in the years to come young people in Ukraine will become more decisive and will participate in the country’s public and political life more actively.

As the results yielded by the index will be taken into account when developing youth programmes, they should become more concrete and understandable for both young people and those who work with them.

It is important to note that ensuring youth participation at all levels is also a key area in the UN 2030 Youth Strategy.

The initiative is implemented by UNDP project “Civil Society for Enhanced Democracy and Human Rights in Ukraine” in the partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, and with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

Text by: Vitaliy Rudenky, Analyst Ukrainian text edited by: Kseniya Kharchenko