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Inspire Democracy Workshop Series
Highlights Report – Calgary, October 23–24, 2014

The tenth Inspire Democracy workshop was held on October 23–24 in Calgary, Alberta. The purpose of the workshop was to help youth-serving organizations understand the issue of declining youth civic engagement, equip them with tools to address it, and invite them to take action to ensure youth are ready to vote in the 2015 general election.

A total of 15 participants representing 7 organizations attended the workshop (see appendix for a list of participating organizations). Participants were active throughout the workshop and discussed the causes of declining youth participation and the actions that organizations can take to re-engage youth in civic and democratic life.

Below is a short summary of workshop highlights. Reports for other workshops held to date are also available on the Inspire Democracy website under Events. A final report on the Inspire Democracy Workshop Series will be released later in 2014.

Day 1: Thursday, October 23

Participants began by developing a common understanding of youth civic engagement and the barriers that prevent youth from participating fully in civic life.

Several themes were raised, including the following:

Participants identify what works in civic engagement

  • Civic engagement can take many forms and involves all segments of the community.
  • Civic engagement can be political and non-political.
  • Youth benefit from being knowledgeable on relevant issues.
  • Leadership and the ability to motivate are key qualities necessary to encourage others to become civically active; however, considering voting as a civic duty also needs to be explored.

Participants identified several barriers to civic engagement, including:

  • A lack of education on civic engagement, including many people not understanding political issues, not enough critical thinking being taught in schools, and a lack of awareness on the voting process.
  • A feeling of exclusion from the system.
  • Youth not being taken seriously, or being subject to tokenism.

Day 2: Friday, October 24

Day 2 of the workshop included presentations and discussions on good practices in youth engagement and actions that organizations can undertake to encourage youth to participate.

Morning session

Elections Canada presentation and discussion on what the research says about civic engagement
(Miriam Lapp)

  • Research shows that youth face both access and motivational barriers to participation. Organizations can take action to help youth overcome these barriers.
  • Participants inquired about research on declining youth voter turnout over time. There was discussion on what factors are leading older generations to vote in greater numbers than the current generation, as well as questions about whether turnout differs between young women and men.

Samara – Democracy Talks presentation and experiential activity (John Beebe)

Democracy bracelets

  • John Beebe led participants through an experiential activity based on Samara's "Democracy Talks." As individuals and in groups, participants identified what they felt were the four most important attributes of democracy.
  • After in-depth discussions, groups were asked to reach consensus and create "democracy bracelets" that represented the attributes using different colours.

CIVIX – Student Vote, Student Budget Consultation, Rep Days: Experiences for fostering youth civic engagement (Taylor Gunn)

  • Taylor Gunn discussed the activities and successes of various CIVIX programs, including Student Vote, Rep Day and the Student Budget Consultation. He emphasized that the results of Student Vote often mirror the results of the actual general election, and that youth don't have a tendency to vote for any particular party or ideology.
  • The conclusion of the session involved a group discussion of how knowledge (e.g. knowing where, when and how to vote) and experiences (e.g. meeting a candidate) are important to encourage voting. By prioritizing knowledge and experience, youth-serving organizations can help young people develop voting plans.

Afternoon session

Participants discuss actions they can take

Youth engagement – Discussion on what works and good practices

Participants identified the following good practices for engaging youth:

  • Face-to-face interaction and meeting youth where they are.
  • Empowering youth and making sure solutions come from them.
  • Experiential learning with an emphasis on fun.
  • Social media and inspirational photos/videos.
  • Creating inclusive environments for youth where everyone is treated as equal.
  • Providing incentives to participate, such as prizes or swag.

Mobilizing youth to action: actions that organizations can undertake

Participants discussed actions that can be undertaken to increase youth engagement on an ongoing basis and during the 2015 general election. Organizations recommended and/or committed to undertaking the following actions:

  • Contact Returning Officers in order to get in touch with Community Relations Officers (CROs)
  • Network with key stakeholders (such as the City of Calgary) in order to provide more access to civic engagement programs, such as CIVIX's Student Vote and Samara's Democracy Talks
  • Host partner/dinner talks about voting
  • Develop and improve existing programming/activities, such as Yukon Youth Want – perhaps start a photo essay social media campaign
  • Invite MPs, MLAs, and Councillors to meet with community groups
  • Raise awareness of voting and civic engagement activities with key stakeholder groups, such as student organizations
  • Connect with other youth-focused groups through existing networks

Participants identified a need for the following tools to support these activities:

  • Workshops and activities to help raise awareness about the issue of youth civic engagement
  • Strengthen Calgary's network of organizations working on youth engagement
  • More information on voting process, including the barriers rural and Aboriginal communities face
  • Resources/funding

At the end of the workshop, Elections Canada Assistant Director of Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement, Miriam Lapp, reaffirmed the agency's commitment to reaching out to youth to ensure they know the ways to register and vote in the upcoming 2015 federal election. To support this, Elections Canada is planning a new series of online webinars, to be launched early in the new year.

The report for this event will also be posted on the Inspire Democracy website, with a Final Report, covering all the workshops, to be posted by the end of the year.

Appendix: Organizations that participated

  • 3 Things for Calgary – Mayor's Civic Engagement Committee
  • Antyx Community Arts
  • Bringing Youth Towards Equality (BYTE) Yukon
  • Get Out the Vote, University of Calgary
  • Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Students' Association
  • Students Association of Mount Royal University
  • University of Lethbridge Student's Union
  • Youth Central