Meeting the Critical ChangeLab Youth Assembly

As part of the external governing bodies, Critical ChangeLab includes a Youth Assembly. It consists of 10 members between the ages of 18-24 from Austria, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain. Throughout the project, the Youth Assembly will provide guidance, recommendations and feedback on project issues such as state-of-the-art, evaluation of proposed approaches and research agendas, as well as gender considerations.   

While the members of the Youth Assembly have varied backgrounds in terms of e.g. education, hobbies and interests, what they have in common is that they are all eager to make an impact in their own communities concerning the things they care about. For example, members participate in various youth and student associations at the local or EU level, take part in organizations that fight racism, aim to improve the status of LGBTQIA+ minorities, or disseminate objective information about sexuality and gender diversity. Some find creative ways to engage in societal discourse on issues such as women’s rights or climate change, while others are interested in how we can make the world a more sustainable place, for example through technology.   

During the first Youth Assembly meeting in February 2024, participants were introduced to the goal and objectives of the project. Since we were meeting for the first time, we also took the time to introduce ourselves and discuss the future of democracy in Europe. 

Discussing the future of democracy in Europe 

During our discussion, one of the major concerns expressed by the Youth Assembly members about the future of democracy in Europe was the rise of populism and far-right ideologies in today’s politics and society. They expressed feelings of frustration and powerlessness in the face of these trends, as despite efforts to engage with their community and raise awareness, meaningful change remains elusive. In young people’s daily lives, polarization can lead to strained interpersonal relationships and a sense of disconnection from political discourse. The members expressed concern that the rise of nationalist and populist ideologies is leading to negative attitudes towards migrants and minority groups. Overall, there was a sense of diminishing unity and empathy in our society and fears that such divisions may be irreparable. 

Another concern highlighted by the Youth Assembly was the disengagement of young people from politics and the lack of civic education. The members believe that comprehensive education on democracy and electoral systems is needed to prepare young people for active citizenship. They also call for effective outreach strategies to engage those who are not typically involved in political discourse, particularly among the student population.  

Recommendations for project activities 

We also discussed the upcoming research activities in Critical ChangeLab with the youth to get their feedback and ideas on what should be explored. These research activities included case studies of youth growing up in challenging contexts as well as testing the Critical ChangeLab pedagogy of democratic education in different countries. Important points raised by the Youth Assembly members included creating a safe space for activities, clarifying from the outset what is meant by difficult terms such as democracy, providing topics in advance to allow time for reflection, offering options for anonymity, and respecting individual choices to participate without pressure. These recommendations are very welcome and considered very important by our project partners, as they have direct influence on the design of the Critical ChangeLabs. The Critical ChangeLab Oulu, for example, has adapted its approach and is now using methods such as mood mapping, creating a common code of conduct, and discussing what is meant when we talk about ‘democracy’. We are looking forward to many more interesting discussions with this inspiring group of young people! 

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