Youth participation, everything but youth councils

This is an English transcript of a presentation I gave at a seminar of the umbrella organization of youth councils in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.1 On Friday 7th of October at a preparatory seminar for a study trip to Armenia. As all of the participants were members of a youth council, there knowledge about them was thorough, however I felt it necessary to give some information about other issues of this topic.


Participation can be defined as:

„Political participation, (…) refers to the political sphere in the narrower sense and involves influencing decision-making processes in different spheres of action of the political system.

These activities can assume a continuous character within the frame of organizations, especially political parties, or simply the character of occasional short-term commitment with respect to specific goals.

Political support may evolve from these activities but need not do so necessarily — it is not a specific purpose of participation“2.

So we can define it narrowly, as any activity that tries to influence the local, national or otherwise public decision making process, regardless of this is activity takes place in a individual or collective frame, continuously or is singular event. However it should be noted, that today we live in a society that is deeply interconnected and formerly mundane or banal activities, such as shopping can become suddenly political. E.g. buying oranges from Israel, not gassing your car at shell because of pollution concerns or wearing a hoodie.

Participation can take many forms, such as participating in the youth wing of a organization or party, a youth center, school, kindergarten, through a hearing, through internet forms, a petition, collecting signatures, walking around your quarter of town with officials and telling them were the problems are, and many many more.

Reasons for participation

There are many reasons given why youth should be able to participate (more). The main motives are pedagogical, political, ethical and as a statutory duty, if there is a law or regulation mandating it.3 In Germany the Education Ministers Conference of the German states, the body that is charged with coordinating education policy, as this is a domain of the states not the federal level, sees participation as giving students: Self, social, subject and methodological competencies“4. Other authors claim that it helps young people growing into their responsibility as citizens through trying out their powers, it prepares them to be responsible citizen, they learn democracy, it creates meaning in our present non traditional plural society. They help people form their own identity and enable youth to get involved in society.

However they note, participation projects are not always initiated without a hidden agenda.

Politicians and other political actors give another set of reasons for setting up youth participation projects:

  • It helps them to deliver better public policy. For example if you plan together with the users of a specific institution the users will keep it cleaner, not vandalize it or hold it in general higher esteem. You might also change the role of them from consumers to co-producers of a public service, thus helping to keep costs down.
  • It produces enhanced legitimacy for your political system and its decisions. Either on the input side (more people are heard), the process side (a fair process) or the output side even if you are not content with the decision.
  • Political parties and the system in general may recruit new people.
  • For small communities it provides an incentive for youth to stay in their community and seek job training, education or employment locally and not move away.
  • The state trains and educates the citizen it wants to have. “ (Knauer/Sturzenhecker 2005, S. 64)
  • it makes them fit into the existing ruling system and thus keeps them from revolutionising it.


In Germany the Social Law Book Number 8 demands youth to be involved in decision concerning them. All though this deals mainly with decisions concerning individual wealthfare pprovisions it concerns aspects of public youth aid, such as youth centers, playgrounds and other institutions as well.5

The basic law of the federal republic of Germany grants the rights to freedom of opinion, assembly, access to justice and be heard by authorities and the right to petition.

The local council act of Baden-Württemberg calls for youth participation in paragraph number 41a, but it also provides space to involve youth not as citizen but inhabitants of towns. Even though may not have the right to vote, all people in a community have the right to be informed by the municipality, ask questions at the citizens questioning time of the city council (GemO BW 33 Abs. 4), can be heard in committees and full council, can be asked to help with the deliberations of these and may be appointed as advising members in committees. Classically most cities appoint some youth to be advising members of the youth aid committee. They may also ask questions and speak at citizen assemblies.6

On the European level the EU has little competencies or make its own youth policy however the treaty of Lisbon calls for: (Article 165) „Union action … shall be aimed at encouraging the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe“.

In the EU Youth Strategy, a „Renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018)“ the Union calls for:

  • „Develop mechanisms for dialogue with youth and youth participation on national youth policies.
  • Encourage the development or use of already existing guidelines on youth participation, information and consultation in order to ensure the quality of these activities.
  • Support politically and financially youth organizations, as well as local and national youth councils and promote recognition of their important role in democracy.
  • Promote the participation of more and a greater diversity of young people in representative democracy, in youth organizations and other civil-society organizations
  • Make effective use of information and communication technologies to broaden and deepen participation of young people.
  • Support various forms of “learning to participate” from an early age through formal education and non-formal learning.
  • Further develop opportunities for debate between public institutions and young people.“7

We can find many grand and positive statements in this EU documents, what the actual policy is, seems to be more difficult to find out and not even clear to EU institutions at some point. Besides this the EU tries to be involved in a „structured dialog“ with youth groups and youths at the individual level.

Through its youth in Action program the Union pays for a range of cross border activities such as exchanges, study trips and so on. Here the Union uses its institutional power to promote its idea of a cross border european identity.

Another issues is the call for an „Evidence based youth policy“8. Actors shall base their youth policy on statistics and hard facts, including indicators provided by Eurostat.

Another rights guarantee can be found at Article 24 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: „children … may express their views freely. Such views shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity“.

 This year the Convention on the Rights of the Child celebrates its 30th birthday. Among other rights it guarantees in Article 12:

„1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.“9

These conventions have a status of a federal law in Germany, however their application is not simple.

Models of participation

Scientists have tried to conceptualized the basis and developments towards participation with a variety of model.



The German Bertelsmann Foundation conceptualizes the emergence of participation out of personal circumstances, the feeling of self efficacy and the participation intensity experienced at school.


A variety of scientist and professionals have tried to develop models to measure participation. It remains questionable if these models are helpful, we may be able to say they are not under all circumstances, but they can provide us with a way to approximate what kind of participation takes place and “good” it is.

These models are always produced under normative ideological assumptions of the authors, that are not always made transparent and certainly depend on their definition of “good democracy”.

Classification of participation

We can try to classify different forms of participation along the following properties.

No formation conventional
Long term, continuous Singular, short-term
aimed at a specific project Several topics
legal illegal
real virtual
Low entrance barriers High threshold for participation
Top down Bottom up

Central for these models are concepts such as:

  • legitimacy, so are you seeking legitimacy of process, by the creation of a large input or by a successful output?
  • Efficiency in government and speed of decision-making
  • democratic qualifications of the citizen
  • social capital, as used by Putnam,

One of the models we mentioned were the Degrees of Participation by Walter Spiess12

Maximum 7 Selfgoverment Young people are taking the full responsibility for a project or group activity (this space gives the opportunity for experiments and social innovations)
6 Co-responsibility Young people people bear the responsibility for a part of the activities.
5 Codetermination Young people are part of a committee and decisions are made together with them.
4 Participation Young people participate actively in common activities
3 Concertation Young people participate in searching for solutions and new projects
2 Information Young people are being informed
Minimum 1 Absence Young people are not invited

And the very often cited models by Hart.13

Further information

Sherrod, L. R., Torney-Purta, J., & Flanagan, C. A. (2010). Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth. John Wiley & Sons.

Gaiser, W., De Rijke, J., & Spannring, R. (2010). Youth and political participation — empirical results for Germany within a European context. Young, 18(4), 427–450. doi:10.1177/110330881001800404

James, A. (2011). To Be (Come) or Not to Be (Come): Understanding Children’s Citizenship. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 633(1), 167–179. doi:10.1177/0002716210383642

Rehfeld, A. (2011). The Child as Democratic Citizen. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 633(1), 141–166. doi:10.1177/0002716210383656

Torney-Purta, J., & Amadeo, J.-A. (2011). Participatory Niches for Emergent Citizenship in Early Adolescence: An International Perspective. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 633(1), 180–200. doi:10.1177/0002716210384220

BRIGHOUSE, H. (2003). How Should Children Be Heard? Arizona Law Review, 45(3).

Kallio, K. P., & Häkli, J. (2011). Young people’s voiceless politics in the struggle over urban space. GeoJournal, 76(1), 63–75. doi:10.1007/s10708-010-9402-6

Olk, T. (2007). Mehr Partizipation wagen. Gütersloh: Verl. Bertelsmann-Stiftung. Retrieved from

Müller, S. (2011, January 28). JUGENDGEMEINDERÄTE IN BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG UND FINNLAND (Zulassungsarbeit). Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg, Freiburg.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION Directorate-General for Education and Culture. (2012, September 30). Youth Policy Participation. Youth Policy. Retrieved from

Hart, R. A., & UNICEF. International Child Development Centre. (1992). Children’s participation : from tokenism to citizenship. Florence, Italy: UNICEF International Child Development Centre. Retrieved from

Hermann, Michael Cornelius; „Jugendgemeinderäte in Baden-Württemberg. Eine interdisziplinäre Evaluation“. Doktorarbeit, Pfaffenweiler 1996

Müller, Yvonne; „Studie im Südweststaat Gesetzliche Möglichkeiten zur Beteiligung Jugendlicher nach Gemeindeordnung“ in Projekt Arbeit 2 / 2002, Sersheim

SGB VIII. Retrieved from

Sebastian Müller,


1Dachverband der Jugendgemeinderäte e.V.

2Gaiser, W., De Rijke, J., & Spannring, R. (2010). Youth and political participation — empirical results for Germany within a European context. Young, 18(4), 427–450. doi:10.1177/110330881001800404

3Moser, S. (2010). Begründungszusammenhänge für Partizipation von Jugendlichen. Beteiligt sein (pp. 87–119). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Retrieved from

4(Kultusministerkonferenz 2000)

5§ 8 Beteiligung von Kindern und Jugendlichen
(1) Kinder und Jugendliche sind entsprechend ihrem Entwicklungsstand an allen sie betreffenden Entscheidungen der öffentlichen Jugendhilfe zu beteiligen. Sie sind in geeigneter Weise auf ihre Rechte im Verwaltungsverfahren sowie im Verfahren vor dem Familiengericht und dem Verwaltungsgericht hinzuweisen.
(2) Kinder und Jugendliche haben das Recht, sich in allen Angelegenheiten der Erziehung und Entwicklung an das Jugendamt zu wenden. Source:

6Müller, Yvonne; „Studie im Südweststaat Gesetzliche Möglichkeiten zur Beteiligung Jugendlicher nach Gemeindeordnung“ in Projekt Arbeit 2 / 2002, Sersheim

7Rat der Europäischen Union , Jugendpolitik, „Beteiligung“:

10Sherrod, L. R., Torney-Purta, J., & Flanagan, C. A. (2010). Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth. John Wiley & Sons Kapitel 22) “Conceptualizing and Evaluating the Complexities of Youth Civic Engagement.

11Bertelsmann Stiftung (Herausgeber), Thomas Olk, Roland Roth „Mehr Partizipation wagen“, Gütersloh 2007, S. 9

12Dimensionen der Partizipation (nach Walter Spiess) Entwickelt von der d’interêt jeuness, modifiziert von der GLAJ-Vaud und von Frédéric Cerchia im September 2011

13Hart, R. A., & UNICEF. International Child Development Centre. (1992). Children’s participation : from tokenism to citizenship. Florence, Italy: UNICEF International Child Development Centre. Retrieved from

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Eine Antwort to “Youth participation, everything but youth councils”

  1. Dokumentation Seminar informelle Bildung und Jugendbeteiligung in Armenien « Sebastian Müllers Blog Says:

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