Condescension or codecision: scrutinising institutional youth participation
The city of Helsinki youth department initiated a pilot project of
participatory budgeting in 2013
The first case of participatory budgeting in Finland and a
departure from the common model of youth participation in
Finland, the city youth council.
Studies show that participatory budgeting can result in frustration
when real participation is missing but that it can also lead to
inclusion of marginalized groups, increase active citizenship and
vitality of democracy (Talpin 2011, Berger 2015).
Deliberative theory suggests some ideal conditions of
participation to ensure procedural legitimacy. These revolve
around access to information, selection of participants, influence
over outcome and quality deliberation (Fung 2006, Irvin &
Do these conditions need to be fulfilled in order for an
experience of meaningful participation?
Ethnographic participatory observation (May-
November 2013) followed by five group-
interviews with thirteen participants.
Hearing process consisted of an introductory
event, two workshops, a school vote and a
meeting of an executive committee.
About 500 12-16 year old school students from
the area participated. The workshops had 20
Conditions of participation
Mikko: Two hours with two weeks in between…
Fanny: That's it, I feel the process was left unfinished
Emma: There’s always that stiffness in the beginning,
nobody speaks even if they are thinking of something
and when we get up to speed and the ideas start
flowing, suddenly we have to leave!
Core participants are less critical while those in
the margins of the participatory experince were
“Surprise, surprise, the youth understand and
they know how to read too. Could we just vote?”
Resistance and subversion
participation?Fanny: Well there were less people present so we could
discuss the issues at hand and be more flexible. The meeting
was around a table and there were chairs for everyone…
Mikko: Sometimes I feel we are jumping from one thing to the
other, there we actually had an agenda which made things
clear. These workshop meetings have mainly been about
practical things like drawing and such…
Fanny: ..gluing pieces of paper together….
Mikko: Feels like being in kindergarten… it’s crazy to spend
time on stuff like that and then to have to hurry without
enough time to finish anything.
Fanny: …it goes like: ”You have five minutes to finish this
thing, then continue with the next one!”
Hopes and fears
Matti: Many things affect young people and they
know more about them because they are affected by
Hilkka: It (youth participation) would make it more
youth like and not just according to what the adults
think would be best. The voice of the target group
should be heard.
Tiina: The worst would be if they just forget our ideas.
Matilda: That nothing came of it.
Me: How would that feel?
Tiina: I would probably feel disappointed.
Juha: Like we wasted our time coming here, missing
our lessons at school and at the end nothing comes
out of it.
Difficult to implement deliberative democracy without other
institutional changes in support of inclusion and transparency
The ideal conditions of participation have relevance in terms
of the experience of meaningful participation.
Core participants found participation meaningful, otherwise
young people remained in very marginal positions throughout
the process in terms of influence.
However, other factors are important too. Especially how the
skills and needs of the target group are taken into
consideration. Pluralistic youth participation needs methods
where socioeconomic conditions and cultural capital are not
prerequisites for participation
Analyzing micro-level interaction in the field could increase
understanding of the marginal actors.