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Re-coding systems and institutions: thoughts from our political literacy panel event

Young Citizens hosted its first panel event of the academic year on Thursday 25 November 2021 as part of our work with the APPG on Political Literacy. 

When looking at how we could help support political literacy learning, we kept coming back to another fundamental part of our work: helping young people understand the significance and role of the systems and institutions that govern society. 

Panelists Amelia Collins-Patel MBE, Dominic Campbell, Lord (Iain) McNicol, Sally Penni MBE and our chair Shakeel Mohammed were posed a big question:¬†how can we help young people shape systems and institutions ‚Äď not just inherit them?¬†


What did we hear? 

With opening remarks from our CEO, Ashley Hodges, the online event featured a lively conversation debating the issue of political engagement.

Resoundingly, the panelists offered an uplifting call for collaboration between young people and sector leaders to see that our systems and institutions engage them directly. They were keen to ensure that young people can work within and alongside big organisations to address our most complex social issues.

When speaking about institutions, this ranged from formal government services to broader civic organisations in the community, and all the systems that help collectively look after our society, from justice to housing. We wanted to recognise a world beyond typical spaces of engagement like democracy, parliament and legislation.

Here are some of our key takeaways…¬†

  • Meet young citizens where they are. Not everything is about our national systems; acting locally cannot be underrated. We need to show them there are a myriad of ways to ‘participate’ that both contribute to ensuring every voice is heard but also able to be active in their community. We need empowering routes and options for everyone, allowing people to engage in a way that makes sense for them. Not everyone is going to run for office, campaign or protest. Not everyone wants to engage in party politics, and this can be a turn off for some young people. Though we were reminded that everything you do in your community will be impacted by politics in some way.
  • The¬†established¬†view¬†of¬†legitimate participation needs to change. Young people need to be able to create and lead their own establishments in parallel – not just work within existing organisations. ¬†There were very practical points: young people struggle to overcome the red tape when trying to set up an organisation such as a community interest company. We need to reduce barriers that leave them disenfranchised and disillusioned.
  • “Young people can have a say¬†through¬†recoding the DNA [of¬†systems]¬†by¬†being a part of them”.¬†Public institutions still have a role to play. We must remember the large amount of public service roles that function outside of formal politics to shape our community, councils, services. Many people in these roles work in a similar manner to grassroots organisers, who just happen to have a more formalised community role. Whilst there is more to be done on collaboration, it was mentioned we need to shout about the councils and communities already doing this well
  • Authenticity matters. Many young people are distrustful of people in power or authority. They value seeing the human side of the system, and¬† more diverse representation that can ensure a range of views and thinking are leading our democratic, justice, health and other civic systems. Personal passion, feelings and a range of lived experiences would be a huge asset to modern institutions. To breed more authenticity, we need diverse voices and representation at all levels of our systems.¬†
  • Leaders,¬†let¬†young people see behind the curtain. Talking about how systems and institutions work can only take us so far. We need to show young people through seeing it in action; to forge transparency and trust. Organisations can remove the smoke and mirrors from big institutions by installing youth board members, creating shadowing opportunities and designing immersive work experiences. These build relationships, but also knowledge and skills of how society is powered and shaped.


Where next?  

The panel ultimately agreed that we need to continue to invest in young people. If we want our systems and institutions to engage them as active citizens, they must be equipped with 21st century skills and practical knowledge.

Political, media and information literacy, as well an understanding of the law, were highlighted as the most significant skills gaps for children and young adults to meaningfully shape the way things are run – especially in a rapidly changing world.

At Young Citizens, we hope to provide this with our teaching resources, Mock Trials Competitions and social action programmes. In all we do, we want to give young people the agency and know-how to continue to shape governing organisations as society rapidly changes around them. Ultimately, it is up to leaders to do more to see that young people understand the value of participation and engagement, paving the way for those who will take their place. 

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