Over the past few years, participation of civil society has taken hold in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) (henceforth CEE/CIS Region), as a necessary element for sustainable development. Within this context, young people’s participation is emerging as a key strategy to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for the year 2015.
This evaluation was commissioned to provide evidence of to what extent UNICEF’s current work in promoting young people’s participation is systematically applied in all aspects of programming. The findings of the evaluation were expected to provide a better understanding of what strengthens meaningful participation of young people in decision-making. It was also anticipated that the evaluation would assist the efforts of the UN, bilateral partners and governments in fostering good governance processes that include young people’s participation.
The participation of young people is still quite new in the region. It was felt that a formative evaluation process was required to guide the refinement of the design and implementation of programmes to support meaningful and sustained participation of young people. This evaluation covers three main areas: 1) results of the Young Voices opinion survey, published in August 2001; 2) participation approaches and entry points; and 3) young people’s participation in UNICEF programme planning, monitoring, research and evaluation. Its overarching objectives were to develop more strategic responses to promoting young people’s participation in UNICEF’s work, and to enhance children’s and young people’s participation in decisionmaking processes.
The evaluation findings will inform the efforts of UNICEF and governments to effectively promote young people’s participation, and will be used by partners to foster the interaction between young people, government and civil society. The evaluation will also provide a basis for a regional consultation with Country Office (CO) programme staff and partners from selected countries to guide and strengthen programming focusing on young people’s participation.
The evaluation included a comprehensive questionnaire for Country Offices, piloted in the Republic of Moldova (henceforth Moldova) and Azerbaijan, and participatory field research with young people in five countries: Albania, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and TFYR of Macedonia. At the beginning of the process, the methodology was outlined in an evaluation protocol prepared by the Regional Office.
The field research was conducted by young people (including 58 young researchers overall and 1,970 young informants) under the guidance of a Principal Researcher in each country. Preparatory training and planning sessions were held with the research teams in each of the countries involved. Four fundamental principles guided the training workshops: the ethics of evaluations involving young people; experiential learning-by-doing; fun; and reflection, stocktaking and feedback throughout the workshop. The training was highly participatory, and introduced the teams of young researchers to both participatory and classical evaluation methods.
Different methods, including questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, impact drawings, testimonials, card visualization, smiley-face scales, force field analysis and social mapping were used to collect quantitative and qualitative data in a youth-friendly manner. These methods which was developed especially for this evaluation.
The use of participatory methodologies, with young people as the researchers, allowed certain questions to be investigated that otherwise would have been difficult to evaluate using professional researchers only. For example, the young evaluators in Albania, Belarus, Georgia and TFYR of Macedonia examined what motivates young people to participate
Findings and Conclusions:
The Young Voices Opinion Poll was considered to be a useful way to make young people’s voices heard.
UNICEF commissioned a polling company to survey the views of over 15,000 children aged 9 to 17 in 35 countries of Europe and Central Asia from late 2000 to early 2001. The purpose of the poll was to gather, analyse and disseminate the views of a representative sample of the children in the region, and to encourage decision makers to take into account the opinions of children and youth.
Although it was felt that the opinion poll fell short of encouraging full and meaningful participation of young people, it was useful in a number of ways. It provided a baseline and strengthened advocacy for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; it raised awareness on HIV/AIDS and healthy lifestyles; and it promoted young people’s influence on youth policy, such as the adoption f National Plans of Action in Armenia and Moldova, and the introduction of life skills based education in the Moldovan national curriculum. The poll became a reference source for designing Country Programmes and youth-managed projects and activities, and was used by young people themselves to justify project proposals, to prepare advocacy campaigns, to develop peer education, and in training sessions on healthy lifestyles and life skills.
Young people's participation is making gains in the CEE/CIS Region.
The evaluation analysed a number of strategies for young people’s participation currently being implemented with the aim of identifying the most relevant and effective programme approaches. Strengthening young people’s voices and promoting their influence in the policy and legislative arena is a new undertaking in the region. Even so, the evaluation demonstrated that, with the right support and opportunities, in some countries young people are directly influencing national and local polices and approaches, especially those related to HIV/AIDS, the right to quality education, and access to quality health services.
One of the most important findings of the evaluation was the striking gender bias in the sample of young informants. Seventy per cent of those sampled were female and 30 per cent were male. COs confirmed that girls tend to be more involved than boys in participation projects. This has profound implications for programming, especially when addressing HIV/AIDS, for which the primary determinant of infection in the region is injecting drug use behaviour, and where the prevalence among young men is higher than young women.
The evaluation found a wide variety of entry points in use for engaging young people. Among them, the most effective were judged to be: “multi-sector” forums (i.e., bringing youth groups together with government and NGOs); media channels; and peer-to-peer approaches – all of which provide good prospects for strengthening young people’s voices in decision-making.
Peer-to-peer approaches in particular were seen by UNICEF Country Offices to have the greatest potential in building young people’s capacity to participate, and were cited as being the most useful in engaging the participation of especially vulnerable young people.
In TFYR of Macedonia, peer-to-peer interactive theatre activities were effective in involving young people, building their skills and working with attitudes related to HIV/AIDS prevention. Interactive theatre was especially successful with institutionalized youth, thanks to the ability of these creative techniques to enable participants to express themselves more easily. In Belarus, the work of youth NGOs has contributed to the inclusion of peer education in the National Programme to Prevent HIV/AIDS.
In Ukraine, the Youth Barometer, a youth opinion poll based on peer-to-peer interviews, was developed as a vehicle through which young people could make their voices heard. The results were reported through the mass media, at various policy round tables, and to the Deputies of the Kiev City Council. Young people aged 15-20 suggested the research subjects, conducted surveys, compiled materials, interpreted the data, and used the research findings for solving problems at the district and city levels. Today the Youth Barometer has become one of the ongoing programmes of the Kiev City State Administration, and is being replicated in many Ukrainian cities.
Young people’s participation through multi-sector forums has made important impacts on national policies and strategies. In Albania, the National Youth Strategy and the National Strategy on HIV/AIDS were finalized reflecting the opinions of young people. In Armenia, students helped draft a national framework for Student Council regulations. In Ukraine, young people’s advocacy resulted in the revision of the draft Standards in Education, including the introduction of HIV/AIDS prevention issues into the national curriculum.
Youth Parliaments in some countries provide a space for genuine and influential participation; in others, this entry point requires further work with both adults and young people to increase participation beyond the level of manipulation and tokenism. Although Youth Parliaments are effective in building young people’s skills, they often do not have wide representation, particularly of marginalized young people.
Young people’s voluntary participation in community development has fostered positive change in adult stereotypes about how young people contribute to their communities. In Moldova, Local Youth Councils (LYC) have been set up in 198 communities to empower youth for conscious participation in community life and to involve them in decision-making. As one example, the LYC in the village of Navarnet took the initiative to clean up the garbage that had been poisoning village life for a long time. As a result adults in the village said that community life changed for the better with the creation of the LYC.
In TFYR of Macedonia, Participatory Action Research (PAR) processes helped to map attitudes and behaviour with regards to youth health issues (HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, drug use). In addition the PAR method created a space for open discussion among young people, and generated valuable inputs to the design and implementation of Right-to-Know interventions. The influence of young people’s participation on the legal and policy environment remains modest in most countries. Thus far the strongest influence of young people is reported in the areas of education policy, health policy, social systems / child rights and state planning. Evidence of the usefulness of policy interventions at a more decentralized or local level was found in several countries, including Local Youth Councils in the Republic of Moldova and decentralized Youth Parliaments in Ukraine.
A key finding is that marginalized young people in some countries and settings are being heard. In Ukraine, for example, the opinions of especially vulnerable young people were taken into account in sub-national discussions on HIV/AIDS issues relevant to their lives. They are given opportunities to express their views, to build their skills in forging group consensus and to present their ideas to adult decision makers.
A critical lesson is that for young people’s voices to be taken seriously, it is essential that adult decision makers are able to appreciate, understand and engage in participatory approaches with them.
With young people’s participation in UNICEF processes, programmes were more innovative and more successfully implemented.
Most of the Country Offices participating in the study engaged young people, to varying degrees, in situation analyses, Country Programme design and implementation. COs consider this to be very important to the relevance and effectiveness of their programmes. In Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Uzbekistan, young people were involved in the Country Programme Mid-Term Review processes, enhancing the quality of the review.
Country Offices in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Tajikistan and TFYR of Macedonia reported the active participation of young people in the development of National Plans of Action, thus enabling young people to influence decision-making processes, and to gain official recognition of programmes important to them.
Country Offices in Albania, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan involved young people in UNICEF reporting and evaluation. This, however, remains an underdeveloped participation entry point. The evaluation found that a number of factors must be in place to effectively promote the participation of young people: commitment to genuine, as opposed to adult-directed participation; a supportive environment, including political commitment; resources to build young people’s capacity; and the support of the media. To realize these factors, effective strategies are required to address adult stereotypes regarding young people, cultures and traditions that make promoting real participation a challenge and, in some countries, a constrained national context or tokenistic approaches to participation, are all elements that should be taken into account in the design and implementation of programmes to foster young people’s participation. The evaluation highlights the strong desire and potential among young people to participate, which constitute a powerful opportunity for further developing youth participation.
Future Surveys Similar to Young Voices:
The overall process should retain centralized regional management, but with much stronger involvement of COs. To enhance the credibility of the report, young people should be involved in developing the methodology and the questionnaire, in analysis and in disseminating the findings. Sampling should also target especially vulnerable young people and ethnic minorities.
Reports should be translated into all languages used in the questionnaire and interviews and widely distributed. A dissemination plan for results of the poll should be developed in each country during the design phase in order to maximize its use to raise awareness, change attitudes and improve policies and budgets in favour of young people and their rights.
A major recommendation from this evaluation is the need for stakeholders to understand what motivates young people – and especially boys and young men – to participate, and to develop more effective strategies to get them engaged. Certain participation entry points – such as youth information and resource centres, peer-to-peer approaches and mechanisms to support young people’s participation in schools and health services – should become an integral part of national youth policies and legal frameworks.
Mechanisms at the policy level are necessary to assist young people’s meaningful participation in the decision-making process. One mechanism is young people’s councils that function as policy-making advisory bodies to relevant ministries. Another is mixed decision-making structures that bring together young delegates and local authorities.
The evaluation illustrated that a critical condition for effective participation of young people is the extent to which adults are ready to engage. Investments in sensitization and capacity building are essential. It is important to develop both adults’ and young people’s understanding in child rights and their skills to foster meaningful participation.
Strengthening Young People’s Participation in UNICEF Processes:
UNICEF COs should explore how young people can participate in all areas of concern to their own health and development, as well as in relevent steps of the programme cycle. Country Programmes need to invest more in training adults to support young people in project planning, management, monitoring and evaluation, in facilitating the involvement of young people, and in training young people in these processes.
This formative evaluation provides guidance towards a more strategic response to promoting young people’s participation in UNICEF’s work. UNICEF must partner with stakeholders (both public and private) to advance the meaningful participation of young people. This means purposeful planning of interventions that build on young people’s unique strengths and evolving competencies, while taking into account whatever situation specific limitations may exist.
It is essential to increase public awareness of the importance and benefits of young people’s participation. Creating a supportive environment is fundamental. This includes: political commitment and government support; an appropriate legal and policy framework; financial and human resources invested in building young people’s capacity to participate; and the support of the media. Mechanisms such as multi-sector forums, can contribute positively to keeping the lines of communication open between young people, civil society and government, and to giving young people a voice in decision-making.
It is critical to focus on innovative and sustainable mechanisms to allow and encourage marginalized young girls and boys, especially those most at risk for HIV/AIDS and substance use and violence, to participate in: assessing and analyzing local and national situations, articulating their point of view and advocating their positions, planning and implementing solutions and being part of monitoring and reporting.
Efforts to support young people’s participation must also address the “gender gap” and foster the participation of boys and young men in order to address the imbalance in participation levels between girls and boys.
It is recommended that a regional consultation of partners focuses on the participation of marginalized and most at risk adolescents, giving attention to gender issues, best practices, useful synergies and existing, as well as new partnerships, all of which to inform programme direction and development.
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