Youth Civic Voices: Workshop Recap!

Janani facilitates a workshop at a Vancouver high school.

Our Youth Peer Leader Janani facilitates a YCV workshop at a Vancouver high school.

From March 2018 – October 2018, we connected with over 920 students to engage them in conversation about municipal involvement. We did this work through delivering our Youth Civic Voices workshop, in collaboration with and funded by the City of Vancouver.

These youth’s feedback on the workshop illuminates three key areas that they feel passionately about as people who have an enormous stake in their local government: Diversity in government, environmental sustainability, and housing sustainability. Read on to see what they had to say about these issues.

Background on the project

Our outreach efforts and existing networks of teachers and community leaders led to their booking the Youth Civic Voices workshop with Check Your Head. We met with Law 12 students, Comparative Civilizations students, Social Justice 12 students, Social Studies 10 and 11 students, and community youth groups. TWe also successfully delivered workshops at six schools and community centres: a Civics 101 Youth Advisory Group, Killarney Secondary, Prince of Wales Secondary, the youth group run by the United Church of Canada, University Hill Secondary, and Windermere Secondary.

What youth had to say

Our youth peer facilitator team reflected that workshop participants were engaged in the topic of civic participation. In the self-reporting evaluation at the end of the workshops, the students shared their perspectives on how they felt that the city acknowledged young voices and that they felt inspired to stay informed about new municipal developments. The facilitators said that this feedback spoke to how youth are willing and excited about participating in their city’s democratic processes and appreciate having an avenue to learn about and take action. For instance, the students often shared that Vancouver’s resources, such as 311 and VanConnect were more accessible than they initially thought, and this workshop prompted them to imagine how they might start utilizing them. Our facilitators and workshop participants felt comfortable and supported in co-creating ways to engage with their city and left the workshop with increased awareness on how interconnected the city, its stakeholders, and civic processes are. This workshop helped participants elucidate the power in their youth voice in affecting municipal decision making and realizing their visions for a healthy city.

  • From the youth surveyed, 72% of youth we engaged with felt that they had a better understanding of the governing/service-providing bodies of the city.
  • 73% of youth reported a ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ level of confidence in understanding the election process and the essential information required for their participation (eligibility requirements, voting location, dates and times). They also reported having a higher level of understanding of how they can actively participate in governance and decision-making.
  • Over 70% of participants felt empowered as young people. They agreed that their voice matters, and felt that youth are stakeholders who hold the voice, rights, and power to influence decisions made by political parties and their elected representatives.
  • Finally, 50% of youth stated that they are more likely to vote as a result of attending this workshop. The 41% who were no less likely to vote than they had at the start of the workshop took away information that would help them make a more informed decision about voting when they came of age.

Key Issues

Diversity in Government
In the “Living in 2040” activity, youth were asked to imagine their ideal version of the City of Vancouver. We asked the to imagine three main things: what their ideal city looks like, a big challenge that’s been overcome, and what their ideal government looks like. When discussing their ideal government, we noticed a strong theme of diverse representation that is reflective of the city. Youth voiced their concerns about Indigenous decision-making power, and expressed why they feel it’s important to have strong Indigenous representation in all levels of government. They talked about how part of our commitment to reconciliation and systemic decolonization must be to ensure that positions of political power are held by Indigenous people on whose land decisions are being made. The youth also brought up concerns of racial diversity in municipal government. Since this is the closest level of government to them, they acknowledge it’s even more crucial to have a group of people representing them that’s reflective of the folks in the city in which they live. They said this would be most powerful and meaningful when ethnic minorities are holding positions of decision-making power to best represent, and act on, the issues affecting them.

Housing Sustainability 

A topic that came up throughout the workshop, and in almost every workshop, was the issue of sustainable housing. In the initial brainstorming activity, when the youth examined what it means to live in Vancouver, one of the words that consistently came up was “expensive”. There is an acute awareness that Vancouver is becoming an inaccessible city for young people; in one workshop, a youth expressed that “we are all just going to move somewhere cheaper”. Another aspect of this theme is homelessness, which was brought up an issue to be overcome by 2040. Young people are seeing that housing is a growing and systemic issue, and many of the youth we connected with had fantastic ideas of what they want to see, from housing taxes and rent freezes, to sustainable modular housing. Many young folks want to stay here and thrive, but those same young people need support on forming policy that will allow that to happen.

Environmental Sustainability
Another theme that youth were focused on in the workshop was climate change and environmental sustainability. When youth were asked to imagine their ideal city in 2040, a widespread reaction was that it was difficult to think of the ideal, because most likely we would be suffering the disastrous effects of climate change by that time. Visions of being flooded by seawater were some of the first responses to imagining “Life in 2040.” This speaks to the deep seated awareness youth participants have of the necessity for action and policy around environmental sustainability and mitigating climate change. Youth are intensely aware that the future is bleak unless we do something about these issues. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. We end all our workshops on a note of action and empowerment – brainstorming how we can get involved in our communities to get to the future we want! Youth were keen to make the connection between civic engagement and getting to the ideal “Life in 2040” they imagined – that one way we get to that ideal future is by electing decision makers who share our environmental priorities.