In one afternoon, over a million people gathered to call for gun control laws in America. Leading this mass mobilisation of protesters were young people. This moment amplifies just how powerful young people are in rallying for change on issues they believe in. It also shows that young people's views are not being adequately represented by the systems that represent us.
The governance of Australian society and the power dynamics that underpin it has remained largely unchanged in recent history.
Throughout this time, a small group of elected officials (under 100 ministers in all federal, state, and territory governments) have held ultimate decision-making power on matters related to the organisation of society.
This approach is problematic. With a growing and increasingly diverse population, these representatives can lack lived experience, expertise, and relevant information to make decisions on behalf of Australia’s dynamic population.
The latest census findings reveal that the proportion of Australian residents born overseas has increased 6.5% since 2011. While same-sex marriage only started being identified by the census in 1996, data shows that in 2016, 46,800 couples identified as same-sex – an increase of 39% from 2011.
There is also a greater range of complex local and global challenges than experienced by previous generations. This includes rising income inequality, the effects of a changing climate, and as FYA’s New Work Order research series demonstrates, automation in the workplace which is causing major shifts in the way we work.
Looking at the breakdown of our country’s decision makers many cohorts appear to be underrepresented. For example, 50% of the Australian population identify as female, yet only 32.3% of the current federal parliament is female. 23% of our population are from a non-English-speaking background, but only 8% of the parliament are such.
One of the most glaring under representations in Australia’s governance is among young people. 31% of the Australian population is between the ages of 18-34, yet there are just seven federal parliamentarians in this age group, with just one under the age of 30. At a local level less than 10% of local councillor positions nationally are held by those under 35.
So how can we flip the governance model to better engage and include young people in decision making?
In recent years, a particular new governance model that fundamentally challenges these traditional power dynamics has emerged. Labelled ‘network’ governance, this new model is underpinned by two main principles:
- joint decision-making; whereby diverse actors make decisions together based on negotiation and consensus-building; and
- co-production; where multiple actors contribute their unique assets (skills, knowledge and resources) to achieve an outcome for mutual and public benefit.
Network governance focuses on distributing power to more diverse actors. For example, instead of politicians or governments making decisions on behalf of communities, community members are integrated into the decision-making process itself, providing them with direct influence on policies that will affect them.
Developing trusted relationships that go beyond a transactional nature is key to this approach, as it allows open and honest communication and more effective coordination between stakeholders.
There are three key benefits to joint decision-making and co-production:
- Problem solving is more effective when more actors with deeper local knowledge are integrated into decision-making;
- Solutions are better tailored to diverse communities when members of those communities can meaningfully participate in decision-making;
- The implementation of solutions is more responsive and agile when those implementing are also those involved in making decisions.
FYA’s social enterprise, YLab, is one example of an organisation working to integrate co-design into existing decision making structures. Using the above principles, YLab creates environments that empower young people to co-lead decision-making processes with organisations on current and future challenges that affect them. It also supports our institutions to change their practices to more genuinely include young people in the decision-making process.
Some of these challenges include youth employment, health, and urban development. For example, in Western Melbourne’s Brimbank Council, YLab trained and employed local young people to collaborate with the Council on the development of a youth employment strategy. This led to greater connection between young people and decision-makers through a stronger youth presence in local council, speaking on radio, delivering workshops and presenting at events throughout the council.
Another example is YLab’s work with the Victorian Parliament, who identified that young people were not readily engaging in parliamentary process and wanted to understand why.
Through engaging YLab, a core team of young people were trained to lead the project addressing this. They were instrumental in decision-making throughout the redesign of policy submission process, from problem definition, to solution development, and critically, implementation.
In order to ensure a more prosperous, inclusive and equal future we need to reform our governance structures to better integrate the perspectives of diverse and underrepresented communities.
This means putting young people at the centre of the decision-making processes on issues that affect them, whether it be in the parliament, the local community, the workplace or school.
Visit the YLab website to find out more about how your institution can integrate young people into decision-making.
Image credit: VCU CNS (Flickr)