Since the key role of young people as leaders was written into the WSIS Geneva declaration, there has been some level of involvement of young people in the Internet Governance Forum.
This year has seen more youth involvement than ever – laying some strong foundations for future involvement in this forum, and other internet related fora.
There is clearly appetite for more youth involvement – which is a very good thing.
Yet good youth participation requires careful thought – and so to try and offer a bit of deeper perspective than the much re-tweeted soundbyte I shared earlier today, voicing frustration at the lack of nuance in conversation about ‘youth’ in the main session – I offer five (hopefully) constructive considerations on effective youth involvement in events like the Internet Governance Forum.
(1) Avoid determining the outcome of dialogue by the way you set it up
The way you frame a discussion has a big impact on the outcomes. When working with groups (youth or adult) who do not have prior experience of an issue – then the choice of inputs to discussion has a big impact on the outcome.
Instead of a ‘dialogue on e-safety’, perhaps hold a deliberative dialogue on living in a connected world – with inputs both on online safety and on benefits of the web. We need to think carefully about how to equip those who do not work already in Internet Governance areas to participate in discussions of Internet Governance.
(2) Identify the role in which young people are participating
Young people can participate in events in many different ways. As developers of technologies. As experts in their own experience, able to offer additional insights into a debate. As researchers. As campaigners. As policy makers. As learners, and as teachers.
Allowing younger participants to participate as ‘young developers’, ‘young internet users’, or ‘young researchers’ (etc.), rather than as simply ‘youth’, helps us to recognise the diversity of young people, and the complex contributions of young people to the Internet.
It also helps us recognise that young people are equal actors with older adults in many contexts.
(3) Recognise the systematic exclusion of young people & work to overcome barriers to participation
One reason to promote participation for ‘youth as an age group‘ (rather than any other conceptualisation of youth) is a recognition of the systematic exclusion and disenfranchisement of young people in many contexts.
However, systematic exclusion is not reversed by simply giving young people a platform (though this is a start) if the power asymmetries and knowledge asymmetries between young people and adults are not considered and addressed.
These asymmetries can be addressed both by capacity building (but that capacity building has to take into account (1) and make sure it is framed in broad terms), and by careful design of engagement processes and activities*.
(*In particular, a serious engagement with youth participation involves choosing new modes of conversation asides from the classic speaker-panel set-up)
(4) Recognise that no one individual or group can ‘represent’ a generation.
A simple point. But too often the views of one individual are talked of as ‘the voice of youth’.
Representation has three substantive main forms: statistical representation (where an individual presents an average / most common view based on clear evidence); representing a group (where an individual has a mandate from a population/organisation they are representing); representing an exemplar view (where a view ‘represents’ one example of simplified possible view).
Knowing when someone is representative (and in what way), and when they are representing their own views only, is important.
(5) Build on foundations of the years before
Some great foundations for youth engagement have been laid, both at WSIS and previous Internet Governance Forum gatherings.
Wheras older participants, in formal job roles related to Internet Governance, may have a history of being at each relevant summit and meeting leading up to an IGF – young people often only get to experience one or two events and lack the opportunity to build strong personal networks and social capital resources for influencing discussions.
Making sure that each year can build on what has gone before, and can help younger groups to gain cumulative understandings of the issues and opportunities of events like the IGF is key to the continued productive involvement of diverse individuals and groups of young people.
I offer these considerations written on the spot and as a newcomer to IGF – and I very much welcome reflections, dialogue, critique and other thoughts on participation in large and open events such as the IGF.