On the 8th and 9th of November in the city of Manchester (UK), OBESSU participated in a meeting organised by Partispace Consortium, a European research-project on youth participation called Spaces and Styles of Participation (PARTISPACE).

The project (2015-2018) “starts from the assumption that all young people do participate while not all participation is recognised as such. […] How do 15-30-year-olds engage with the public in formal, non-formal and informal settings and how is this supported or inhibited by local youth policies and youth work?”. The research involves 8 different countries: Bulgaria, Sweden, Germany, France, Turkey, England, Switzerland and Italy.

The general discourse in the European debate on youth participation centres on the ‘fact’ that young people are not participating. This discourse is often grounded in the fact that the percentage of young voters at elections is not as high as it was for other generations. This project wants to ‘change’ this assumption and show that young people are actually participating, but in other ways.

To support this theory, the researchers have been focusing on other ‘types’ of youth participation in society, such as graffiti-painters in Frankfurt – Germany, a community-house centred around a local football team in Italy and a parkour-group in Gothenburg – Sweden. Through different interviews and observations, the researchers have got a profound understanding of these groups and their dynamics, and also what being in a group means for those young people and their role in society. Being in a group, no matter if you are discussing politics or playing sport, develops your identity and thereby gives you a role in the community and society as a whole!

After having worked for more than a half year, this event was a mid-term meeting of the project, where researchers presented their observations, discussed methodology and debated on how to proceed from now on.

Now, you might wonder where OBESSU fits into this project. We are neither researchers nor a group of people being observed, so what is our role?

OBESSU has been invited to take part in this project and in particularly in its Advisory Board. We have been following all the phases of the project and thanks to our knowledge and experience, we are giving feedback and guidelines to the researchers. Are they going in the right direction? Are they missing an important aspect of participation or are some of their observations not relevant?

From our perspective, the project is going well and it is definitely moving in the right direction. However we did stress a couple of things to the researchers that they should look at in the next steps of the project.

Even though young people are participating in many different ways, the possibilities for participation are not equal to all young people. From our experience, young people from a good socio-economic background have lots of opportunities to participate in various ways when it comes to politics, sports, youth clubs etc. But on the other hand, people from less privileged background have fewer opportunities. As this research project is dealing with lot of different young people from different background, they have a unique opportunity to actually look into how young people’s background affects their level of participation.

Furthermore we reminded the researchers to consider the participants as subjects, not objects. Therefore we advised them to keep their participants involved in every step of the project, show them how the observations are being used, discuss the purpose and outcomes of the project and invite them to their meetings as well.

We thank the Partispace Consortium for having invited us in their Advisory Board and we are looking forward to reading and assessing the final outcome of the project!

Written by Lasse Sjøbeck Jørgensen, OBESSU Board member