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Societal and political engagement of young people in environmental issues

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - STEP (Societal and political engagement of young people in environmental issues)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2017-12-31

Decisions on environmental topics taken today are going to have long-term consequences that will affect future generations. Young people will have to live with the consequences of these decisions and undertake special responsibilities. Moreover, as tomorrow’s decision makers, they themselves should learn how to negotiate and debate issues before final decisions are made. Therefore, any participation they can have in environmental decision making processes will prove essential in developing a sustainable future for the community.
However, recent data indicate that the young distance themselves from community affairs, mainly because the procedures involved are ‘wooden’, politicians’ dis-course alienates the young and the whole experience is too formalized to them. Authorities are aware of this fact and try to establish communication channels to ensure transparency and use a language that speaks to new generations of citizens. This is where STEP project comes in.
The overall objective of the project was to develop and pilot test an e-participation platform for the societal and political participation of young people in the decision-making process on environmental issues.
STEP is a digital Platform (web/mobile) enhanced with a number of features, so as to become appealing to young people and engage them in e-participation processes.
During the second reporting period, the STEP platform development was finalized, and delivered to the pilot partners for testing. The platform comprises:
• The e-participation component
• The Social Media Monitoring Tool & Visualisation component
• The Machine Translation component
• The Data Logging component
• 2 Mobile applications (for Android and iOS)
The work which started in the first reporting period on the co-design of the STEP platform with young people and policy-makers/public officers was finalized. The co-design activities undertaken with a large selection of end users allowed the consortium to take decisions about the design of the STEP platform at many levels. In some instances co-design activities helped validating original design ideas, and on other instances allowed to define novel ideas for functionalities.
The STEP platform was pilot tested by the project pilot partners, who engaged young users and policy makers in decision-making procedures with an environmental impact. In the midway an additional Municipality joined STEP local pilots, while the STEP consortium decided to implement an EU pilot and exploit the platform at EU level. STEP’s 7 pilots managed to engage 9.929 users in the STEP platform and upload 97 public dialogues within a time period of 9 months.
A pilot plan was developed on the basis of the STEP public participation framework, which combined information from available best practice guidelines and toolkits and adapted it to the project specificities.
Based on this framework, public partners were guided to define and explain the approach of conducting public participation and how this relates to the particular characteristics of the pilot and meet the needs of decision makers, public authority officers and young citizens. This process resulted in the formation of local pilot plans.
After training the public officers on the use of the platform and testing it internally with a core group of users, the platform was launched to the public. Public dialogues were set up and promoted by public authorities, and young citizens were engaged according to the engagement strategy develop in Period 1. The practical recommendations which arose from the engagement strategy were taken into account not only for the formation of the local pilot plans, but also when the monitoring of the pilots was performed.
The STEP platform was actively disseminated by pilot partners according to the local dissemination plans. Stakeholders in pilot areas were involved though a core group of users which proposed potential methods of engaging young people through local dissemination activities and events.
During the pilot operation there was continuous feedback from users to the technical team. Adaptations to the platform were made, and new features were developed.
STEP was evaluated based on three perspectives: process, system, and outcomes. There was an intermediate evaluation on the mid-way process of the pilot operation, and a final evaluation at the end. It was planned around a questionnaire with young people and policy makers (this second only for the final evaluation), qualitative interviews and users’ self-reporting activities. In particular the questionnaire questions were mapped onto the STEP project core objectives. The data analysis conducted for this evaluation shows positive results for STEP in the achievement of the project objectives. STEP is indeed seen by both Young People and Policy Makers as a useful platform for the conduction of e-Participation on environmental issues and the actors generally said they would use the platform again and would suggest its use to their respective peers.
Lessons learnt during the execution of the project on what are the opportunities and the challenges of conducting e-Participation have been identified, and distilled in practical recommendations composing a possible Roadmap for Public Authorities wishing to conduct their own e-Participation processes.
The initial exploitation strategy and business plan to take the STEP outputs to the market were developed in parallel to the pilot operation, defining the STEP exploitable outputs, such as the STEP e-participation platform and App, as well as the partners’ vision to use the knowledge and outcomes of the project.
STEP has introduced novel methods and approaches for an integrated framework for the participation of young people in environmental decision-making. Through the STEP platform, young people participating in the project activities had the opportunity to express their opinion on local issues put under consultation by the pilot partners, and also bring up issues which they considered important to the attention of policy makers. The STEP social media monitoring tool enabled young citizens to browse social media content relevant to their own topics of interest, with the goal of getting up-to-date on important matters and driving more vivid discussions on the e-participation part of the STEP platform, and ultimately providing more insights about the issues discussed and more content shared.

The STEP project has achieved a high impact in opening decision-making to young people, with a number of successful cases, such as the participatory budgeting in Mollet del Valles, where citizens voted on the allocation of 100.000 euros for public investment, or the reaction of the Municipality of Hatay to the citizens’ complaints through posts on the STEP platform, which decided to bring forward the implementation of waste collection and public road maintenance projects. The pilot operation also had an impact on the approach of public authorities towards youth participation, as the Municipality of Sant'Agata del Bianco changed its statute to recognize the possibility for young people to submit e-petitions; the Municipality has officially lowered the age limit from 18 to 16 years old and additionally managed to simplify the e-petition process by reducing the number of signatures needed in order to submit a petition as a citizen.