This is an application submitted by Edgeryders LBG in the fall of 2013 for the UK national agency managing the Youth in Action programme and did not get through. Drop us a line if you want to use this content or remix it, or partner up with Edgeryders. Thanks
THE POLICY HERO CHALLENGE: Young Citizen Experts Meet The Big Government
The relationship between citizens and institutions is often made of unrealistic expectations and disillusionment, that leave both sides embittered and estranged from each other. The aim of the project is to reconnect the two by promoting dis-intermediated interaction and building of shared approaches to youth policy.
The Policy Hero Challenge starts as a facilitated online conversation on the Edgeryders interactive platform, casting young people as citizen experts on youth policy. They will be invited to spot key education, work and social inclusion challenges and the solutions experienced first hand. During two 4 day physical events in [City 1] and [City 2], 30 citizen experts from across Europe will meet and engage in a direct, honest, solution-centred conversation with policy experts from various decision-making levels. The goal will be to harness participants’ individual stories into realistic policy proposals enabling European youth to live more fulfilling lives. Throughout the project, young participants will co-design event agendas, actively report outcomes from the sessions, therefore learning how to integrate political information and better articulate policy opinions. They become policy heroes, acknowledged and highlighted by the promoters through active community building and social engagement. The results of this exercise will be aggregated in an online Policy Hero Handbook to be distributed freely among broader communities of practice across Europe.
Edgeryders formed in 2011 to work on a Council of Europe report of practical policy recommendations. The goal was to have young (mostly under 25) Europeans take part in a collaborative policy process, acting as advisors to policy makers. After six months, we had collected 1,700 pages of high-quality ethnographic data (500 posts and 4,500 comments by 1,200 users in more than 30 countries). We then employed young ethnographers to “code” the material and run results by a panel of academics. We also wrote software to map interaction patterns in the Edgeryders platform, and ran network analysis to detect and enhance emergent social dynamics that could be relevant to the task. The project ended with the delivery of “Edgeryders Guide to the Future: A handbook for policy makers and managers of policy-oriented online communities.” http://www.scribd.com/doc/116463853; http://edgeryders.wikispiral.org/
The team behind Edgeryders also has a good record of designing and organising events. Our former community events, Living on the Edge, took place in 2012 in Strasbourg and in Brussels. 150 participants attended the first, and over 80 participants came from all corners of Europe and used personal finances to reach Brussels for the second. Many of them took an active role in organizing the event on a volunteer basis.
Finally, the Edgeryders social enterprise is aimed at building generative relationships within the policy space. Collaborations with Swedish think tank Global Utmaning (/t/the-edgeryders-guide-to/327-the-baltic) and the United Nations Development Programme (our team was invited to hold a webinar and participate in a consultation exercise on the 2015 development agenda) are further evidence of demand for first hand knowledge that Edgeryders-like citizens have, as well as potential impact through policy consultations.
-fight against poverty and marginalization
- to promote young people’s active citizenship in general and their European citizenship in particular
- to contribute to developing the quality of support systems for youth activities and the capabilities of civil society organisations in the youth field
- to promote European cooperation in the youth field
We think the more stakeholders are involved in policy making, the higher the chances to achieve better policies -generating better support mechanisms for youth.
By highlighting participants’ views on policies as active factor in decision-making and validating this through the presence of policy makers at The Policy Hero Challenge events, we believe youth’s level of knowledge and reasonable expectations regarding policies will increase and will generate longer term effects through future participation. Moreover, we are reversing the idea of citizens as passive recipients of policies and making them protagonists - policy heroes in our project, therefore strengthening their sense of citizenship and empowerment.
Young people from the Edge (referencing EdgeRyders ethos) are often those living in precarity or economic instability as they try out new, sometimes radical solutions. By bringing the Edge closer to the centre, as opposed to the society’s tendency to marginalise its most radical members, we make a contribution towards increased social cohesion.
The Policy Hero Challenge happens in international contexts fostering dialogue and cooperation among people coming from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and a variety of European countries; especially its informal workshops are fostering mechanisms of peer to peer support, by encouraging young people to get inspired and learn from one another, as well as develop collaborations outside the project framework.
The Policy Hero Challenge:
- Involves citizens in participatory exercises to design realistic, ready-to-roll policy measures, to debug Europe's next generation of policies around education, labour and employment, social cohesion.
- Allows participants to engage with their representatives in a respectful, non-mediated context.
- Promotes mutual understanding of challenges faced by policymakers as well as young people, not only one way.
- Mobilizes the creativity of citizens to route around roadblocks currently preventing public policies to be the tool for collective changemaking Europe wants – and deserves.
- Tackles the complexities of policy making full-on: vested interests, inertia, leads and lags in political processes all need to be taken on board and hacked in search of solutions.
- Promotes a narrative of result-oriented collaboration between citizens and institutions, where the former are not merely “listened to” but are enlisted as active collaborators – and the latter are acknowledged as powerful tools for collective action and not dismissed as irrelevant or worse.
Partnerships and Activities/ Project design
Edgeryders have collaborated previously with founders or members of other partner organisations as they joined conversations on our online platform. Together, the promoters in this project have access to a wide human resource and potential participants in The Policy Hero Challenge (TPHC), distributed across most European countries.
Preparation: The Edgeryders team will be in charge with launching communications, internal coordination and organizing online planning meetings. All promoters commit to launching and translating TPHC call to their networks to ensure participation of youth from diverse social and cultural backgrounds - most of them can recruit 2 to 5 participants. Following its previous experience, the Edgeryders team will actively involve both citizen experts and policy makers early on, to codesign the content of the sessions and workshops, using the online platform to host the conversation and generate input on youth policy ahead of the events, therefore raising visibility of the project. Edgeryders will recruit a community manager and two engagement managers charged with facilitating the online conversation and outreach and (media) partnership building, respectively. The technical director will create a dedicated web space on https://edgeryders.eu where young participants can share their contributions.
Activity: The promoters agree to recruit key young contributors to seed the discussions in the initial phase. Later on young expert leaders will prepare each challenge at the event and coordinate the work of transforming it into concrete steps for policy action. This is part of actively engaging young beneficiaries not just as recipients of travel grants, but also as builders of the events. [Partner in City 1] and [Parner in City 2] will be creating small location teams tasked with technical and logistic support, as well as welcoming participants and assisting them to the venues and accommodation locations.
Evaluation: The major output of the project is the collaboratively build Policy Hero Handbook containing all policy proposals and a curated summary of the overall online and offline conversation from both events. This will also be an indicator of the vast number of people we reach through the project, plus it is a gift to them as protagonists of the project, rather than remaining traditional beneficiaries. During the pre-event two months long conversation on the proposals and one month follow up, online traction - event page and Edgeryders website visitors, number of posts and comments - will be used as indicator of the project’s success.
Project content and methodology
Young people are expected to become educated, make a living and turn into active citizens against a backdrop of rising unemployment, high costs of housing or increasing ranks of graduates with no future. Tentative policy topics to be explored are: having a job versus making a living, the social cost of being an entrepreneur, online courses as vehicles for cheaper education, recognition of informally acquired skills, reducing unpaid internships, and building personal and community resilience. All these are examples of how the real individual trajectories can be better supported through adequate policy, rather than being unable to fit existing institutional frameworks.
- the working methods
Integrated research: The Preparation phase will include integrating information from existing surveys, collecting information from the grassroots organisations and young people themselves, analysis of youth media, and direct input from the promoters’ communities.
Open design process: The event agenda is built in a highly participatory way, where anybody wishing to contribute with input can do so. Depending on what participants deem as most pressing policy issues, the project organisers will incorporate that into the final agenda.
Narrative weaving: The citizen expert narrative emphasizes how, unlike traditional experts, “you do not have to have a PhD in the humanities or science to be able to participate meaningfully: your experience in a specific area qualifies you as a citizen expert”.
Engagement strategy: This refers to community management and efforts to generate excitement, such as assemble a social media team, set up weekly online calls with participants, create a collaborative workspace, give proper recognition to all volunteering efforts.
Collaborative writing: The Handbook resulting from the project is a product generated by many people and brings together a richness of expertise, a variety of experiences, yet shared worldviews.
Euro-English: We will prepare communication prior to the event in English and translate it into different languages for outreach. Onsite the language will be Euro-English, the lingua franca a lot of young Europeans use when they move about; it is an inclusive, connecting language that most youth speak enough to communicate. We will publish guidelines in advance, making it clear that participants agree to be tolerant of each other’s mistakes.
- how the planned activities and working methods will contribute to the process of non-formal learning and to the promotion of social and personal development of young people involved in the project.
Meeting policymakers face to face and engage in the discussion of pressing issues will enable better understanding of policy making processes; moreover, youth will learn to represent themselves and express their ideas convincingly as active citizens who don’t experience challenges in isolation, but see the more complex picture.
We are taking responsibility to not alienate those wary of the shouting match of mainstream politics and bridge the expertise that is often discarded with the institutional feedback drops. If lack of clarity arises related to specific terminology or processes of policy making, those with a background in law or social science will facilitate understanding between policymakers and young people.
The building of social capital is pursued at all stages of the event, by creating an interactive, open dialogue space both online and offline. The two days of unconference will create a context for peer to peer learning.
- how the young people will be actively involved in each stage of the project.
The Policy Hero Challenge is designed in a participatory way, assuring that the participants put their effort in preparation of the topic they the most interested in. They will also be invited to help organise the project events which we will frame as “their own”, developing skills for: blogging, photography, video, sound, graphic design, surveys, sharing information and tips on logistical organisation.
Impact, Multiplier and Follow-up
The skills and capacities of people lacking a by-the-book professional status - for example, the incomplete formal education or being on unemployed benefits - often go unnoticed and not fully applied. Linking young people with fewer opportunities together in multidisciplinary teams supports the accumulation of social capital and increases their opportunities, both personal and professional.
As mentioned above, participants from different countries will be able to stay in contact through social networks, and will be able to exchange knowledge and ideas about the possible usage of their skills, and possibly create projects which can be run online, such as ones related to blogging. On top of that a pan European social capital is an asset, especially if one considers the currently increasing mobility.
Lastly, the participatory nature of the preparation stage of the Policy Hero Challenge also opens up a possibility to improve organisational skills through volunteering of participants.
The Policy Hero Challenge does not end with the events. With the help of partner institutions and youth communities, we will engage more people in fleshing out the measures that come out of the project. This is part of a wider attempt of our organisations to build networks of institutional actors who are willing to come closer to the lived impact of their policies and adopt better ones.
In terms of impacting local communities, local policy discussed during the events can further be developed into prototypes and projects, with only local organisations, authorities and youngsters involved, without direct participation of promoters and organisers. They can however make themselves available for free consulting. The Policy Hero Challenge can be also replicated easily after the event has been prototyped, engaging more young people and local facilitators (for example students with political science background). Organisation process, including logistics and actual sessions will be documented, therefore facilitating event replicas or even scaling the current format.