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Inspire Democracy Workshop Series
Highlights Report – Vancouver, May 29–30, 2014

The fourth Inspire Democracy workshop was held on May 29–30 in Vancouver, British Columbia. 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 34 participants representing 20 organizations attended the workshop (see appendix for a list of participating organizations). Participants were highly engaged throughout the workshop and provided valuable feedback on both the causes of declining youth participation and the actions that organizations can take to reengage youth in civic and democratic life.

Below is a short summary of workshop highlights. A final report of the Inspire Democracy Workshop Series will be released later in 2014.

Day 1: Thursday, May 29

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 should recognize diversity, endeavouring to engage all segments of a community in culturally appropriate ways. "Community" itself exists in various scales, from neighbourhoods to large cities.
  • Civic engagement is participatory and action-driven, can take many forms, and includes both political and non-political activities.
  • Civic engagement is both a right and a responsibility for all segments of a community. It is about collective action and, ultimately, it should contribute to quality of life.
  • Community and government should change as a result of engagement.
  • Civic engagement includes an element of education; it begins with awareness and understanding of the issues, followed by decision making and, finally, action. No specific skills are required to be involved.

Participants identify barriers to civic engagement.

Barriers to civic engagement were defined as follows:

  • Underuse/misuse of technology. There is a need to embrace new communication and technology vehicles (e.g. social media, online voting). Conversely, technology can be used as an excuse for lack of participation.
  • Not seen as important/lack of relevance. The issues that resonate with youth are not necessarily shared with other groups or addressed in the messages they hear. The general trend of delayed entry into the workforce and delayed starting of a family may also be related.

    • Exclusion. The youth voice and perspective is undervalued. Many mainstream ideas, intentionally or not, suppress diverse points of view.
    • Lack of convenience. Youth may not have the time or resources to participate (exacerbated by high mobility).
    • Turned off by the political system. There is a distrust of the government and of the political party system, which is viewed as inefficient, negative and outdated.
    • Lack of representation and variety among political candidates (e.g. age, culture, gender).
    • Lack of information and understanding about the political process. Youth need more civic education and information about candidates, parties and how the electoral process works.

Participants discuss actions they can take

Democracy bracelets

Day 2: Friday, May 30

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. Actions that organizations can take to help youth overcome these barriers were discussed.
  • During the discussion, participants recognized that the problem is deep and that motivational barriers outweigh access barriers. Multiple players need to take action to motivate youth to participate.

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.
  • John explained the other components of Democracy Talks and indicated how youth-serving groups can use the tool to host their own discussions.

CIVIX – Getting engaged (Taylor Gunn)

  • Taylor Gunn described CIVIX's three major programs: Student Vote, Rep Day and the Student Budget Consultation.
  • Taylor led a discussion on the driving factors for civic engagement. Key factors identified were:
  • Knowledge, such as knowing electoral divisions, candidates, relevant issues, the distinction between levels of government, party platforms, and when, where and how to vote.
  • Experience, such as talking to or meeting a candidate or elected official, voting in a mock election, attending (or having) a dialogue or debate over a political issue, and performing the act of voting itself.

Afternoon session

Youth engagement – Discussion on what works and good practices

Participants identified the following good practices for engaging youth:

  • Offer immersive participatory activities (e.g. model parliaments, mentorship programs with political actors) and youth-driven activities (e.g. workshops delivered by youth). Create safe spaces to learn about elections and discuss relevant issues to build confidence and capacity to participate.
  • Use information sharing and advertising that leverages traditional media (e.g. giveaways,
    newsletters) and new media (e.g. social media, push reminders, guerrilla marketing). Pay attention
    to age-appropriate and interactive methods.
  • Create opportunities for direct contact between youth and politicians (e.g. MP or all-candidates' meetings), with an emphasis on the issues that are relevant to youth.
  • Include candidate pictures and short summaries of candidate platforms at polling stations and online.
  • Bring voting and registration opportunities to where people naturally congregate (e.g. shopping malls).
  • Leverage activities that youth naturally embrace. For example, encourage selfies at polling stations, give away "I voted" stickers that offer concert admission, encourage a buddy system ("friends don't let friends not vote").

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:

  • Conduct non-traditional outreach and advertising such as vote mobs, "democracy jams" (youth-led discussions where engaged youth bring those unengaged), and free food with embedded voting messages. Activities can take many forms (e.g. walking tours, potlucks) and need not have democracy or politics as the central feature.
  • Collaborate with other organizations to run joint campaigns, use existing tools, deliver workshops in schools and host an "elections boot camp." The City of Vancouver is convening a get-out-the-vote network for the municipal elections.
  • Work with young people participating in their first election. Local elections can provide a great first voting experience leading up to 2015.
  • Create opportunities for public interaction about elections (e.g. open space, art, performance).
  • Provide opportunities to connect with politicians and other engaged citizens (e.g. all-candidates' debates, speaker series) and relate politics to concrete things youth care about.
  • Create a "sexism in politics watch squad," encouraging people to tweet about sexism in the media.
  • Hold voter registration drives and disseminate information where and when youth are already congregated (e.g. new-student weeks on campus, student union conferences).
  • Leverage social media and create shareable content. Create badges, hashtags and voting ribbons for Facebook and Twitter.
  • Produce and distribute more swag and create opportunities to share it (e.g. "I voted" stickers and pens, selfie stations outside of polling sites).

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

  • Social media and online applications. Promote existing resources and activities through other people's or organizations' websites and social media accounts. Do creative promotion, such as encouraging selfies at polling stations.
  • Advertising and information with a minimalist design, focussed on relevant information. Produce promotional and information materials such as "I voted" stickers, candidate videos and an interactive voters guide. (Organizations would need financial assistance to create promotional items.)
  • Increased partnerships with other organizations and use of volunteers. Forge stronger relationships with electoral bodies (e.g. Elections Canada). Find more opportunities for networking and information sharing, such as these workshops.
  • Space for outreach and networking activities, including openness from public officials to use public spaces in creative ways.
  • Sharing of information or research about what engagement tactics work in advance of the 2015 federal election.

At the end of the workshop, Miriam Lapp, Elections Canada's Assistant Director of Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement, thanked all for their participation. She reaffirmed the agency's commitment to reaching out to youth through youth-serving organizations to disseminate information on how to register and vote in the upcoming 2015 federal election, and to sharing research on youth civic engagement. Inspired by organizations' interest and dedication throughout the workshop, Miriam encouraged participants to introduce or strengthen civic engagement programs for youth and maintain new connections made. Miriam recommended use of the Inspire Democracy website as a tool to inform their activities. She invited participants to provide Elections Canada with feedback on the website or any other ideas they might have. Elections Canada will maintain contact with participants through a newsletter and the website.

Appendix: Organizations that participated

  • Alma Mater Society of UBC Vancouver
  • Canadian Women Voters Congress
  • Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House
  • Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions
  • City of Vancouver
  • CityStudio Vancouver
  • Elections BC
  • Elections Canada – Vancouver East
  • Engaged City Task Force
  • Engaged Immigrant Youth (Vancouver School Board)
  • My Vote Matters
  • Reconciliation Canada
  • Samara
  • Simon Fraser University Student Society
  • SFU Public Square
  • UBC Graduate Student Society
  • University of the Fraser Valley
  • YMCA of Greater Vancouver
  • Young Women Civic Leaders / Justice Education
    Society of BC