The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 11: Young People & Local Democracy feat. Jackie Weaver

Featuring: Jackie Weaver, Dr Rebecca Rumbul, Hattie Andrews

What are the barriers for young people engaging in local democracy and what are we doing about them?

Welcome back to the Practical Democracy Podcast! In this episode, Jackie Weaver (yes, that Jackie Weaver), Hattie Andrews, director of The Politics Project and Dr Rebecca Rumbul, Head of Research at mySociety, discuss how to get more young people involved in local politics and the barriers in the way.

Episode 11 transcript

Here’s a rough breakdown of timings:

00:00 Intros

02:00 The road so far...

The approach for getting kids involved in local democracy tends to be…creating mini councils. They have their own standing orders & committees. Jackie reckons this isn’t the right approach, we need to start from scratch.

8:10 Issues not systems

Hattie notes that the types of kids that would be on a youth council and are hyper-engaged are what all young people are like. We need to ask kids what they want to do, and then facilitate that, rather than expect them to be part of the governance system first. Kids care about issues, they’re not partisan or bothered about the mechanics. Young people can really make a difference when it comes to specific issues like the climate, particularly at a local level.

13:00 On communication

There’s a language barrier between old and young people - Rebecca says she found councils and their language, or jargon intimidating as a teenager. Jackie says the reverse is also true - she now knows the difference between a handle and a hashtag but it was like learning a new language entirely! It’s a two-way street. Hattie reckons there are definitely steps we can take to ensure councils/adults/authorities aren’t using terms that are too specific. Like, a ‘working group’ is just a meeting. Call a spade a spade.

18:30 On good examples

Are there any? Yes, but they’re one-off projects and doesn’t happen on an ongoing basis. Like a citizen’s assembly, they’re resource heavy and expensive. It’s the ongoing stuff, stuff that isn’t directed at young people but that still affects them, that needs to be better at including the youth voice. Again, the ‘issues not systems’ point comes up: these initiatives are better when they focus on topics not politics. We can view the parish council as the method to achieve results on said specific issues; a vessel of sorts. And indeed it’s easier to make change locally within a smaller council than via a larger body.

27:00 So…what next?

How to make it easier to get past the first hurdle? It’s hard to know where to turn to find ‘the voice of youth’, especially when young peoples’ interests are so different dependant on age.

And from the other side: what about people who are intimidated by the bits of council culture that get attention, like the viral meeting? Jackie reassures us that meetings like that, where you need a ‘flak jacket and hostage negotiations’, are outliers, although she reckons that standards need to be raised.. And gives her advice on where to start as a young person who has an interest.

Check out Hattie Andrews from The Politics Project, Dr Rebecca Rumbul of mySociety and of course, Jackie Weaver.