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Inspire Democracy Workshop Series
Highlights Report – Moncton, October 2–3, 2014

The ninth Inspire Democracy workshop was held on October 2–3 in Moncton, New Brunswick. 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 10 organizations attended the workshop (see appendix for a list of participating organizations). Participants were active throughout the workshop and contributed to discussion on 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 2

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:

  • Civic engagement isn't just about working to achieve positive outcomes. It is also about things like everyday conversations, watching the news, and simply discussing issues that are important. It can also encompass civic-minded behaviour like helping one's neighbours. Civic engagement is a way of life.
  • Civic engagement is the contact point between individuals and public institutions. It is how we as individuals participate in public life collectively.
  • Civic engagement is a responsibility.

Participants identify barriers to civic engagement.

Participants identified several barriers to civic engagement, including:

  • Negative associations with political involvement among youth. Being apathetic is sometimes seen as cool. Politicians are sometimes perceived negatively and politics can be seen as a nasty business.
  • Youth can lack confidence in their political voice and feel intimidated by political action. They may feel a sense of inferiority, lack of efficacy or general sense that their voice doesn't matter. Those who are on the "inside" do not always create welcome spaces for youth involvement and political engagement can be perceived as elitist.
  • Voting can be seen as inconvenient, particularly for youth who move around a lot. Some youth have difficulties with transportation.
  • Organizations are not always structured to welcome youth. They do not always make efforts to recruit youth and reflect their interests.
  • Youth often lack an understanding of how democracy works or do not feel sufficiently informed to engage. Families are not talking about politics around the dinner table.

Day 2: Friday, October 3

Participants talk about what works in youth engagement.

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
(Neil Burron)

  • 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.

John Beebe presents lessons on how to engage youth based on the experience of Samara.

Participants pose for a photo (photo taken by John Beebe).

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

  • 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.

L'Institut du Nouveau Monde – Quebec Youth Voter Turnout: Strategies, Lessons, Rite of passage (Miriam Fahmy)

  • Miriam Fahmy spoke about the youth engagement activities of INM during the 2012 Quebec provincial election, including the organization of electoral debates (and a guide on how to do so), a promotional campaign, and a "laboratory" with youth to discuss actions to encourage youth participation.
  • Miriam also discussed INM's Rite de passage, a proposal intended to spark debate on institutional reforms to re-engage, based on consultations with youth.
  • Discussions focused on both INM's experience in engaging youth and the proposed reforms.

Afternoon session

Youth engagement – Discussion on what works and good practices

Participants identified the following good practices for engaging youth:

  • Roundtable discussion in schools or at community centres with topics decided by youth.
  • Empowering youth and making sure solutions come from them.
  • Giving young people the tools they need to develop confidence. Providing them with forums to apply their skills.
  • Creating comfortable environments and non-intimidating space.
  • Making sure youth are present in official institutions and at polling places. Hiring youth.

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:

  • Talk about voting and making the election a centre of conversation.
  • Hold non-partisan information sessions. Hosting fun events that include an educational component on voting (e.g., pub nights).
  • Promote friendly get-out-the-vote competitions between the different floors of student residences.
  • Use social media to challenge friends and family to vote.
  • Implement Democracy Talks.
  • Create a campaign to recognize first-time voters (e.g., stickers at polling places).
  • Break down party platforms into easy to understand language.
  • Train "democratic ambassadors" to present to community organizations.
  • Target people who are least likely to know about politics.

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

  • Education to understand the process. Tools. Information sessions.
  • Volunteers and space.
  • Safe, respectful, inclusive attitude towards other ideas.
  • Role models.
  • Funding.

At the end of the workshop, Elections Canada Policy and Research Analyst, David Le Blanc, reaffirmed the agency's commitment to reaching out to youth to ensure they know how to register and vote in the upcoming 2015 federal election. David emphasized the importance of building an engagement community and working together to advance youth participation in the lead up to the 2015 election. The report for the event will also be posted on the Inspire Democracy website.

Appendix: Organizations that participated

  • YWCA
  • YMCA of Greater Moncton
  • University of New Brunswick
  • Rabbittown Community Centre
  • New Brunswick 4H
  • Fédération des Jeunes Francophones du Nouveau Brunswick
  • University of New Brunswick Student Union
  • Community Sector Council of Newfoundland and Labrador
  • St. Thomas University Students' Union
  • Centre accueil et d'accompagnement francophone des immigrants