Youth and Open Government: How to Improve Engagement?

14 Aug 2017

A group of students taking part in the “Open Parliament - Voice of Youth” competition. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP A group of students taking part in the “Open Parliament - Voice of Youth” competition. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

During my recent internship with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I was thrilled to discover how far Georgia has moved on the path to Open Government and Open Parliament, and how much promise of stronger democracy these initiatives hold for the Georgian citizen.

Georgia joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011, pledging greater governmental commitments towards transparency and accountability, freedom of information and innovative public services. In 2015, the Parliament of Georgia endorsed a Declaration on Parliamentary Openness and Memorandum with international and non-governmental organizations. By signing these documents, Georgia has become the first country in the South Caucasus to subscribe to the Open Parliament principles. 

The European Union, UNDP, USAID and the country’s other international partners have been actively supporting these efforts offering advice and technical assistance to the Georgian Government and Parliament, and creating a space for civil society to step in.    

Georgia’s progress was acknowledged in 2017 when the country was chosen to chair the OGP for a one-year period starting from fall 2017.

However impressive this story may be, I believe the OGP itself has room for improvement and certain issues still manifest in many countries, including Georgia. One such problem is the lack of youth engagement. When asked in conversation, only 6 out of 64 students from the Georgian universities knew of the Open Parliament and Open Government. Clearly, the scope of outreach can be expanded and the nature of the engagement could be improved to involve constructive dialogue.

Some moves have been taken to raise awareness, such as the “Open Parliament - Voice of Youth” competition, organised by the European Union, UNDP and the Parliament of Georgia in cooperation with the Georgian organization Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI). However, these unitary engagements are not sufficient, given their small scope and occasional nature.

Why is it important to engage young people in the first place?

Cliché or not, the young are the future and must be taught positive values for the benefit of their countries. Encouraging youngsters to value transparency and accountability now is an investment in our shared political future as well as a benefit to citizens today.

How can we improve youth engagement?

There have been recommendations for enhancing youth engagement globally, such as appointment of a youth representative to the OGP Steering Committee. However, much can be done at the national level considering best practices of the OGP member countries.

Croatia established the Open Youth Academy to encourage people learn and debate values of open government. The same idea is embraced with “Open Youth clubs” which encourage young people to monitor OGP developments in their own countries. In Indonesia, there is the Model Open Government Partnership (MOGP) to stimulate the running of the OGP and engage young Indonesians.

Operating similar scenarios in Georgia would introduce young people to the values of open government, increase their engagement and highlight the ways in which the OGP can lobby for change.

“I would love to learn about the OGP at University. It seems like an interesting and valuable initiative,” – told me a 20-year-old student, Marisha Gogolauri, when asked what could be done to improve her engagement with the OGP.

“Universities could feature the OGP modules in Law and Social Science degrees and involve aspects of a Model OGP setup to encourage interaction.”

Whatever path Georgia takes, I hope both the Parliament and Government will considerably expand the OGP space for the youth, creating an exceptional tool for enhancing both accountability and transparency. Together with young Georgians, we can do just that.

 

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