One of the aims of the project was to design a tool that will help local authorities of municipalities (involved in the project) to involve young people in the decision-making process. The roundtable method developed within the South Baltic Youth Core Groups Network project (2018-2020) is very simple in its assumptions and proved to be very effective and practical, according to the opinion of representatives of the municipalities that participated in the project (both representatives of youth and adults – representatives of the authorities).
We encourage you to use this tool in your communities. It should be checked in every municipality/community, regardless of whether it has a Youth Council or not. Where a youth council exists, it can act as an organiser for young people, which will be a great support for the authorities. Since, when there is no Youth Council in a community, most of the organisations are likely to be representatives of local authorities. In this case, on the side of the young people you can, for example involve the student governments of the schools concerned. What is important is that not only young people and representatives of authorities are invited to participate in the debate, but also local institutions, NGOs, etc, who are interested in the subject of the debate.
How to prepare a „roundtable debate”?
At this stage, it is very important to remember that the subject selected for the debate should meet several conditions:
a) The topic should be interesting and concern young people. If the topic is completely unrelated to the everyday life of young people in a given community, it will be difficult to encourage young people to participate in the debate and express their opinion (because they may not even have one).
b) The topic should be accepted by the decision-makers and should concern a subject or area that is or will be subject to change and the voice of young people will be taken into account. The most important thing is that the chosen topic and the decisions following it have real potential for implementation.
c) The topic should be well formulated, concrete.
In other words, already at the stage of choosing a topic, there should be cooperation between the authorities and young people. The assistance of the Youth Council, which is close to the needs of its peers and is a valuable intermediary between young people in general and the authorities, is particularly useful here. Another way is to make a social diagnosis.
For example, in the SB YCGN project, before the first debates, we interviewed representatives of authorities, youth councils and young people (both within and outside MR) in Polish municipalities to identify problems or topics that are most important to people in a given community. The results of the diagnosis were communicated to the decision-makers, but the final decision on the choice of the topic of the „round table”; was made by the authorities. At the next „round tables”, however, the topic was chosen together, usually a representative of the authorities proposed several topics to the young people and eventually the young people chose the one they wanted to deal with.
Examples of topics implemented in the project are: setting new rules for youth scholarships, equipment and location of „pocket parks”, adjusting public transport to the needs of residents.
2. Organisation of the debate
2.1 Selection of local organizations.
At the beginning, it should be considered which local youth institutions and organisations would be worthwhile to include in the debate, especially with regard to the chosen topic for work. It is good to involve different communities – especially young people – as well as to ensure the participation of different groups: young people from informal groups, people from the city council, but also other organisations and media.
For example, the project roundtables were attended by such circles as a youth orchestra, the Polish Red Cross youth group, school authorities and pupils, NGOs, sports clubs, local cultural centres, representatives of municipal transport companies, etc. These were often institutions directly involved in the topic.
2.2. Selection of date and place for the round table
The representatives of the authorities (in cooperation with the youth council) choose the place and time of the event. We recommend choosing a free form, outside the office, in the afternoon (2 PM is a very good time), after lessons, but still during the office hours. It is also good to consult the deadline with the municipality’s calendar so that it does not turn out that representatives of the authorities cannot come because of other obligations. It depends on the place and time of the debate whether the young people will come and how free they will feel to express themselves.
2.3. Sending out invitations
It is up to the organiser, i. e. the local authority, to decide on the way and form of the invitation. The most effective method of promotion in the project turned out to be slippery mail (i. e. young people invited young people) and personal invitations. You should invite at least two weeks in advance. It would be good to somehow promote the event to young people and potentially interested organisations. Contact with the media is best established by the office.
2.4. Organisation of the debate
The choice of the form of the meeting is up to the organizer. The SB YCGN project has developed a framework for debate using the world cafe method, which can be adapted to local needs (in annex). This method is mainly based on working in groups, to which topics are assigned. The participants are divided into groups and each works in turn at each table so that each participant has the opportunity to speak on each topic. It is worth making sure that the tables are moderated by people who know about the topic of the meeting (e. g. from NGOs, youth organisations – depending on the subject), but not representatives of the authorities (in order not to intimidate the discussants). Examples of sub-topics to the subject of scholarship for young people include the award criteria, the form of payment of the scholarship, or taking into account the financial situation of the applicants.
This debate is not only a discussion of young people on a specific topic, but should also include elements of recommendations and working out conclusions for the future. It is important that it does not end with just a description of the state of reality, e. g. that no one talks to the youth, listens to them or takes them seriously at school. Moderators should therefore ensure that constructive conclusions are drawn, e. g. If there are arguments about difficulties, it is necessary to work with the group to reformulate these conclusions in order to resolve the situation.
It is crucial to ensure that every participant, regardless of age and function, has an equal voice in the discussion and can be heard.
3. Public hearing
Another element of the method is a „public hearing”. After passing the diagnosis stage, young people should be able to present conclusions and recommendations for further work on the chosen topic and their participation in the decision-making process to the decision makers. A public hearing may take place for example at a meeting of the Municipal Council or the Commission. The aim is, on the one hand, to collect and summarise the conclusions of the debate and to present them to the authorities, who can continue to work with them. On the other hand, showing young people that their voice is heard and important.
The last stage of the whole process is of course the implementation of the developed recommendations. The extent to which the voice of young people will be taken into account and the implementation of the decisions taken is of course up to the authorities. Nevertheless, it is very important to inform the young people about how and when their application will be handled further and about the results it has produced. Even if the recommendations are not accepted, it is important that young people are informed about the reasons for this.