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Engaging Urban Youth: Community, Citizenship, and Democracy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CMCG (Engaging Urban Youth: Community, Citizenship, and Democracy)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2018-02-28

This project is about how young people in cities, especially those who are disadvantaged or marginalised, engage in society and in political issues. The issue being addressed is that disadvantaged youth in urban environments often experience marginalization and disenfranchisement that can lead to very negative consequences for them, their families, and the wider society. This research study aims to inform future policy and practice relating to engaging urban youth in civic and political life, especially those who are marginalised. This study is important for society because concerns about the extent to which young people are increasingly disengaged from civic and political life have been a concern for youth policy. At the supranational level, a number of youth-oriented policy frameworks developed by UN agencies and at the European Union, in particular, have identified youth civic and political engagement as an important goal for the individual young person and for society. There has been a similar focus at the national level in some states, particularly in Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, Britain, and Northern Ireland.
Section 1: Summary of Work and Deliverables
The project began with a literature review, scan, and analysis of selected policy documents at the supranational (UN, EU) and national levels in the three focal jurisdictions.
Following this, a total of 66 formal interviews (in addition to a number of more informal discussions) were completed across the three cities, including government officials and policy professionals, leaders of youth serving NGOs, and front-line practitioners. Interviews were semi-structured, guided by a common interview protocol of open-ended questions, modified slightly to better tailor questions for specific organizations or informants, and providing opportunities for informants to broach new issues and explore unforeseen avenues of inquiry. Once most of the key informant interviews were completed we organized, with the help of key informants, focus groups with a total of 28 separate groups of young people. We piloted our focus group instruments with a group of young people in Galway, who also later served as a ‘reference group’ and provided feedback, at a later stage, on emerging themes and findings from the data collected from young people in our three focal cities. Each group generally comprised between about 6 and 12 young people, aged approximately 14-25. Over the course of the research we also engaged in periodic consultative discussions with our initial set of informal advisors, with a ‘reference group’ of young people from our pilot site in Galway, and—once we had a draft of the final research report nearly complete, with a range of stakeholders, including those we interviewed and young people from the focus groups, in each of the three cities.

Section 2. Support of Main results and findings

The policy analysis provided a detailed understanding of how international and national policy pays attention to issues of youth engagement. We identified four main themes that policies focus on: 1) understanding the challenges of youth engagement. 2) how young people are perceived and characterised in the frameworks 3) the reasoning behind and rationale for emphasising youth engagement as a policy priority, and 4) strategies and actions recommended to promote youth civic and political engagement. We have written a detailed report (Chaskin et al., 2018a) that gives an outline of these policies, a comparative analysis of key themes across them, and what can be learn from them for future policy making.
Our interviews with policy makers and practitioners and our focus groups with young people allowed for a deeper analysis of the possibilities and challenges presented by efforts to promote the engagement of young people in civic and political life. They leave us in no doubt that it is complicated, challenging, diverse and not open to simplistic or singular solutions. Our research findings (see Chaskin et al, 2018b) point to four key actions as summarised below.
Firstly, we call for the broadening of outreach work and deepening engagement with young people, especially those who are marginalised. This means there needs to be increased support for detached youth work where youth workers can spend significant time in the informal spaces where vulnerable and marginalised young people are. Secondly, we argue for the need to normalise participation and we suggest that schools are an important component of a strategy to do this because they have access to most young people over the course of their childhood and adolescence. We suggest, however, that there is a need for a fundamental review and reorientation of citizenship education in schools as well as the expansion of partnership between schools and youth and voluntary organisations. Thirdly, our analysis identified the need to respond to ideological and practical tension between more formal and more informal strategies and contexts and between a focus on more service-oriented civic engagement strategies and those that emphasize political and social action. Finally, we identify structural inequalities as a major barrier to youth engagement. This includes equity in the distribution of resources, access to high quality education, opportunities for social and economic mobility, and addressing institutionalised discriminatory practices.

With regard to the dissemination of the results, we have shared results with key stakeholders, inviting them to help us to make best use of the findings to influence policy and practice. We will report the findings in policy briefs, two detailed reports that can be accessed freely and peer reviewed publications. We will present our findings at conferences and encourage that they are used in the education of youth workers, community workers, teachers, social workers and social pedagogues.
The research will have direct impact on European policy. The research has contributed significantly to the knowledge base about specific contexts, strategies, and mechanisms through which disadvantaged urban youth can be most effectively engaged. The research has also highlighted the potential effects such engagement can have on youth development, social change, and long-term citizen engagement. We have highlighted how policy-focused professionals, civil society leaders, and front-line practitioners understand the purpose, frame the challenges, and respond to them; or how young people themselves interpret their place in the world and the opportunities, barriers, and potential responses to constraints on their civic and political engagement. The recommendations regarding the need to address socio-economic disadvantage could make a direct impact on how welfare systems support families and organisations to develop and implement youth policy. Recommendations regarding the role of schools and the need for greater partnership between schools and the voluntary/community sector could have a major societal impact of changing a predominant view of education as a mechanism for social control. Normalising participation could mean a societal change whereby young people are more civically and politically engaged from an early age.