Last year, a Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) One-Time-Only Health Promotion Project Grant – alongside funding and in-kind contributions from partners such as the City of North Vancouver and Vancity, helped North Shore Community Resources kick start a North Shore Young Citizens Forum. The Forum brought together 30 young citizens between the ages of 19 and 39 to address the lack of participation of younger people in policy and decision making, especially at the local government level.
The Story Behind the Forum
North Shore Community Resources co-hosted a community forum on housing with the Economic Partnership of North Vancouver and Generation Squeeze a couple of years ago. 62% of the participants at the housing forum were under 45 years old. According to the Forum's organizers, these young adults expressed that although they aspire to be a part of various civic affairs they do not have enough information, understanding, and skills on how they can participate in democratic dialogue and share their perspective, and because of this, the voices of youth are generally left out of shaping public policy. The North Shore Young Citizens' Forum was created to bridge the gap.
How the Forum Engaged Youth
Youth are often not thought to be as civically engaged as older generations. Though they are passionate and share their views online, youth tend to vote less, participate less in public consultations and are often underrepresented at municipal council meetings. To address this disparity, the Forum came up with the following goals: educate younger adults about local government and its importance; build capacity and skills for younger citizens to participate more in local civic affairs; and research and recommend to North Shore municipalities pathways to increase participation by younger citizens in local government.
As a result of the event, participants developed 16 recommendations to address five different thematic participation challenges faced by young people on the North Shore. These themes include: improve face-to-face engagement; deepen online engagement; increase young citizen representation on advisory committees; encourage young-citizen led informal engagement projects; and include young citizens in the city council, public hearings, and formal processes. The last recommendation was pursued almost immediately through the development of the Democracy Café program.
Taking their Ideas to City Council with Democracy Café
The Democracy Café takes the forum's goals a step further and encourages youth to continue their participation in healthy democratic dialogue. The overall goal of this program is to make "democracy more open, robust and responsive to community needs by encouraging all citizens to participate in civic life and encouraging governments to improve opportunities for the public to participate" (North Shore Community Resources).
In June 2019, the North Shore Young Citizens Forum teams presented their ideas for improving youth engagement to their respective city councils. All three councils passed unanimous motions to review the recommendations, create staff work plans focused on youth engagement, and continue to work with their young citizens towards developing more inclusive, and thus healthier, communities on the North Shore.
Connecting the Democratic Process to Public Policy and Health Outcomes
VCH Community Investments was proud to support this initiative that facilitated grassroots collaboration with local governments and potential contributions by young citizens to the development of healthy local public policies such as safe and affordable housing, healthy built environments, and more inclusive communities. As Juan Solozano, Executive Director of VCH Population Health, explains, it is the ultimate goal of VCH's Healthy Public Policy initiatives to "influence public policy towards systemic change and improving determinants of health. VCH recognizes that the environments in which we live, work, and play have a pivotal role in the health of the populations, and that any meaningful improvements in the health of a population require multi-sectoral coordination across government agencies, and the private and non-profit sectors."
The North Shore Young Citizens Forum project exemplified VCH's objectives of pursuing healthy public policy, greater inclusion, and building sustainable community capacities towards affecting systemic change. Congratulations to the Forum members on the success of their work so far and we can't wait to see what else you will accomplish!
Visit the North Shore Young Citizens forum website to learn more.