Word Up
Verein Wiener Jugendezentren

The Problem

Starting in the eighties of the last century both in Austria and several other countries politics are facing the increasing problem of people not being interesting in political life, even not taking part in elections any more. Furthermore young people were significantly higher affected by this trend. On the other hand more grass root movement came up tackling issues on the local level. This movement often involved young persons, but mainly those being already young adults (18+) and having a higher educational background.

Up to the end of the 20th century there was no structure established which regularly involved youth (younger than 18) in participation processes. On the other hand this age group is the most affected when it comes to municipal planning of public areas, because it is the biggest group using this places (public parks, playgrounds etc.) A lot of young people spent their spare time outside, mainly to socialise and meet friends.

Another fact highly important for the city of Vienna is the high migration rate. Nowadays more than 45% of all youth in Vienna have migrant background, only half of this group has Austrian citizenship, therefore both the youth and their parents are excluded form actively taking part in representative democracy. The situation worsens as it is mainly those with lower educational level who are in this group.

To sum up, the problems were a decrease in civic engagement of young people, an almost total disconnection of specific groups with local authorities and representative democracy and politicians who wanted to do something about that, but did neither have any contact with this groups nor the communicative abilities which would have given them the chance to talk at eye level with the young people.

One important precondition in Vienna was that the municipality is divided into 23 districts, which always had local district parliaments, but those in fact did not have any power as they could not decide on budget matters. This changed in the Nineties as a process of decentralisation had been started. The local district parliaments were provided with budgets and could decide on their on in certain matters regulated in the Viennese Municipal (state) Constitution (Vienna is one of the nine states of the Austrian Federal Republic). Especially issues of public areas, parks, traffic and schooling were decentralised.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
In several districts the Association of youth Viennese centres, a mainly municipal funded non profit organisation managed to implement local youth parliaments involving annually full vintages of one age group, usually those in 7th grade (13 year old). This age level was taken, as up to 8th grade pupils usually go to school in the same district as they live. Therefore almost the full age group passes a 9 month process in the “Word Up” youth parliaments. Within this process they get to know the local district parliament system and the persons involved the municipal departments relevant for their issues. But this is only the cognitive achievement.

They are not hearing lectures; they are not taking part in simulations. They are making a real live experience, starting from their own wishes and ideas. One of the major rules is that only issues brought up by the young people are examined. Neither the involved politicians, nor public department officials are allowed to bring in their issues. Therefore the emotional involvement and motivation is significantly higher, it is not a game, it is real. Furthermore in the best practise version of “Word Up” the local district parliament places a budget (60.000 – 100.000 Euro) per year at the disposal of the youth parliament. And the youth parliament decides in line with the Viennese State laws.

Some achievement in numbers are, depending on the size of the district, annually 300 - 700 youth per district going through the general process of the system and annually 50-70 of these per district acting more actively as delegates. As the system is currently (2011) established in 8 districts in Vienna this is in the average 4.000 youth attending basic workshops and 480 of them being involved in the whole process. As every year a new vintage is passing the process, in the long run all those who lived and attended school in the same district were involved, regardless citizenship and educational background.

The “materialised” achievements are summarized in the protocols of the evaluation meetings with the youth and can be experienced live. It is improvements in local traffic, public parks, public playgrounds often with practical support by the youth delegates. Sometimes it is simple things like pavement markings on basketball/football grounds sometimes more complex changes in public transport, improved street lighting etc.

Especially those young people who are more active and elected as delegates show a long term engagement beyond the 9 month process as they often keep contact with the organising youth work units. But also politicians and municipality officials report that they highly benefit as they now are able to be a lot more precise in what they are doing and even finally saving money. Local district councils are annually deciding if they want to proceed and those who started in the “best practise version” always did so far.

Every local “Word Up” is annually evaluated by all involved and long term impacts were matter of two university studies so far.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The solution was developed and proposed by youth workers from Association of Viennese Youth Centres (Verein Wiener Jugendzentren). Details were developed together with the local school boards, principals and teachers, the involved local politicians and civil servants (mainly the office managers of the respective district mayors and local responsible of the Municipal Department 42 - parks and gardens)

The Municipal Department 13 - Education, Out-of-School Activities for Children and Young People, supported the process by its expertise.

In all districts all political parties of the respective district councils are annually informed and invited. Annually the reports of the “Word Up” youth parliaments are given to the council and it is year by year a new decision to proceed with it or not. Usually the “word up” - resolutions in the district councils are made unanimously.

Association of Viennese Youth Centres nominates a local project coordinator in every involved district, always a youth worker permanently working in the respective district. Association of Viennese Youth Centres main office oversees and supervises all initiatives. In those districts where other Associations (NGO’s/NPO’s) also offer youth work services they are invited to send persons of their local staff into the project initiatives team which is made of 6-10 professional youth workers.

During every “Word Up” period there is at the beginning and at the end a meeting of the project team, the district mayor, his office manager and the local school board to revise the process. Those are the main stakeholders.

Depending on the issues brought up by the young people the involvement of other public or private institutions might be necessary such as: Vienna Police, local entrepreneurs, Vienna Public Transport (“Wiener Linien”), Municipal Department 48 - Waste Management, Street Cleaning and Vehicle Fleet Municipal Department 49 - Forestry Office and Urban Agriculture, City of Vienna Housing, Municipal Department 46 - Traffic Management and Organisation and others

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
As Association of Viennese Youth Centres (Verein Wiener Jugendzentren) had initiated the project, first task was to get local politicians and schools into the initiative. As local politicians at least in some districts were well aware of the above described problems and local youth centres usually have a good reputation when it comes to working with young people it was possible to convince one district in 2001 to give it a try. This soon worked as a best practise example and as district mayors in Vienna are well linked with each other from 2003 onwards it was possible to continuously get more districts into the system.
This was also supported by the fact that Viennese City Council decided to lower the legal voting age down to 16 by 2005 (both for City Council and District Council elections). Many local politicians recognized that their benefit could be that they get into touch with a more and more important group for them.
It was slightly harder to get schools into the initiative. Even though “Political Education” would be a major task, schools were usually mistrusting everyone coming from outside their system. In some district a long term existing cooperation between school and youth work helped and after the first tries both schools and politicians were by practise convinced that the initiative is working and that they are fully involved as partners.
With the years those Municipal Departments which got involved also saw their benefits - that they could more properly deliver their service by being directly linked with an important target group.
To get and keep the most important group motivated, the youth themselves, it was important to come up with a strategy to make them and their needs the centre of the initiative. Therefore some ground rules were established:
• Only issues brought in by the young people are allowed
• Discussions between young people and politicians are always moderated by independent professionals
• Young people have the right to get answers on all their questions
• The denial of a request/proposal must be clearly justified by the responsible politician
• All activities and discussions must be held in a language young people understand
• All results (actions which finally have been taken) have to be reported back to the young people
• The youth workers who accompany the young people have to ensure that everything goes with this rules
The objectives of the initiative are:
 Give young people a place to discuss their needs regarding municipal issues of their personal life
 Make municipal services better fit with these needs
 Connect young people with local politics and make them aware how democracy works
 Give them a chance to make real decisions regarding the local district in a democratic way
 Raise engagement of young people
 Raise awareness for the needs of young people

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
In the year 2000 Association of Viennese Youth Centres (Verein Wiener Jugendzentren) started the first negotiation with the District Council of the 22nd Viennese District and quickly could implement the first initiative in 2001.

2nd, 9th, 11th, and 20th, Viennese district soon followed. In every district the initiative had the same objective and rules, the operational implementation was sometimes different due to local specifications and needs of the respective District Council and school board.

The year 2005 brought two important developments. First the legal age for voting in local elections was set down to 16, which was an important impetus for local politicians to get youth more into their focus. Secondly “Word Up” started in 23rd District and this was the first which from the beginning gave an own budget to the young people to decide upon.
In 2006 Association of Viennese Youth Centres compiled the “Guidelines for Word Up Youth Parliaments” which still are the base for all local concepts
In 2009 20th district switched their system also to own budget. All the other local “Word Up” initiatives keep it the way that the youth parliament decides on their wishes and the district council, district mayor or municipal service finally decide whether they may go with it or not (still have to justify their decision for the young people).
In 2011 “Word Up 20th District” was nominee for Austrian Award for Integration (shortlist of 4 in category “Encouraging and Supporting” after 256 applications)
In the season 2011/2012 the Viennese districts 2, 3, 9, 11, 15, 20, 21, and 23 are working with the “Word Up System”. Local authorities are currently investing app. 105.000 Euro to keep the system running, Districts 20 and 23 each give an annual budget of 80.000 – 100.000 Euro to the young people to decide upon.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
One of the main obstacles in the beginning was to convince the school system to take part. This was essential as the first contact with the young people happens via workshop in schools and through this system almost all 13/14 year old within a district could be reached. To overcome this obstacle was quite different from district to district, depending how open the local superintendent of schools and the involved principals were. In some cases the strong wish of the district mayor helped to overcome it, but one of the main points was that it was openly communicated what the project was about and how it is planned to be implemented

Furthermore the regular meetings of the local project responsible with principals and superintendents help to keep it running and have the side effect that the relation between school system and youth work system is intensified.

After the first step for politicians to generally agree to give it a try it was a learning process for them that communication in the “Word Up system” is different to what they were used to elsewhere. It is not speaking from the podium to the crowd, it is the youth and their needs on the podium and communication on eye to eye level. Of course it is highly depending on personalities if this is working or not and there are significant differences from district to district. The facilitators of the process always work hard on sticking to the communication rules.

The biggest obstacle was to get peoples motivation for the issue. Word Ups answer to this is a methodological one:
 Keep with the ground rules, have the youth and their needs in focus, only talk about what they bring in.
 A lot of work in small groups and only a few ex cathedra lecturing.
 Communication settings in circles, proper room atmospheres to make it less formal, meet in an environment the young people know – e.g. there are plenary sessions in shopping centre malls
 Usage of Video – small groups of youngsters explain their concern through a video clip

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The costs related with this initiative are basically carried by the local district councils. They pay for the facilitation of the process. Youth work brings in the methodological knowledge.
All the politicians themselves, municipal departments and local schools make their contribution by spending time – so it is human resources - for attending meetings and caring for the concerns of the young people. The actual costs vary from district to district depending on the size and are from annually 10.000 – 25.000 Euro (the full annual budget in the involved districts varies, depending on size and number of inhabitants from 3,8 – 15 Mio. Euro).

It is youth worker teams of 6-10 who facilitate the process. It is an additional benefit that - contrary to other initiatives of this type – those youth workers regularly work in the respective districts, in youth centres or as street worker, therefore they know the environment by themselves and can later support the sustainability of the outcome. Only those moderating plenary sessions with district mayors are from outside in order to give them more independence in leading the discussion.

The decision to start or continue the initiative is a matter of the district council on proposal of the district mayor. It is discussed and new decided every year. The Municipal Department 13 - Education, Out-of-School Activities for Children and Young People supervises the usage of the money compliant with the methodological and financial regulations.

All those money used to finance the requests and wishes of the young people (in case money is needed!) is a lot more. Apart from the two Word Up budgets in 20th and 23rd district a lot more money is annually spent by the districts. All this is a matter of the Municipal Departments responsible for the respective request.

The key benefits were an increase in involvement of young people in matters of the municipality and their local life, by statement of the responsible departments an improvement of accuracy of measures concerning public areas, a reduction of costs also through less violation in public areas. Most important it is a major tool for participation of young people and a significant tool of direct democracy.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
So far there is no general or even legal regulation on youth participation, neither in Vienna nor Austria, therefore it is finally always depending on the will of governing politicians to keep it sustainable Sometimes the districts take a break to reconsider the concept, but for us this is rather an advantage than a failure as we consider the initiative as very process oriented and permanently learning and adapting concerning the operational structure and used methods. The key elements stay and we are looking forward to researches of possible long term impacts in those districts which keep it running for several years now.

“Word Up” is often presented in national and international meetings regarding youth participation and the feedback is generally very positive. We are convinced that the ground rules are easily transferable to other municipalities and countries, even the basics of the operational structure, even though parts of that will have to be adapted to the respective legal and political system. Still – at least as far the initiators know - there are not a lot of similar projects, although many others all over Austria and Europe have certain common elements. The own budget to decide upon as it is in 2 districts seems to be unique. The Austrian wide network for youth participation ranks Word Up as one of the best known best practise examples.

Both in terms of sustainability and transferability the key is to have the will of politicians and administrations to share. It is about sharing opinions but even more also about sharing power - and responsibility.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Major lessons learned are that the motivation and impact is significantly increased when it changes from a kind of “dry-dock situation” where final decisions are made elsewhere to a real participative process which clearly passes the decision making to the involved persons. The first stage, a kind of counselling by the youth for local politics and administration, is for sure a step forward, but it is highly recommended to go further.

The impact mentioned by municipal administration bodies, that resources now can be distributed more effectively, is an essential from the administrations point of view. Long term impacts regarding more engagement and active participation of young people are obvious from the youth works point of view. We highly welcome scientific research on that, so far this did not happen due to a lack of resources.

The keys elements of the success of this initiative can be split into two groups.

On one hand it is the ground rules the initiative starts with:

• Only issues brought in by the young people are allowed
• Discussions between young people and politicians are always moderated by independent professionals
• Young people have the right to get answers on all their questions
• The denial of a request/proposal must be clearly justified by the responsible politician
• All activities and discussions must be held in a language young people understand
• All results (actions which finally have been taken) have to be reported back to the young people
• The youth workers who accompany the young people have to ensure that everything goes with this rules

On the other hand it is the operational structure which highly involves the main stakeholders, local politics, school and the concerned municipal departments.

Moreover it is quantity and quality of methodology. It gives the chance for a wide range to participate as all classes of a year are involved in the beginning. And then, as everybody knows what it is about, who wants to be there, is there. When the discussion is getting more specific everyone who wants can have a voice. And it can be in the “language” he or she is speaking. No question that 13year olds have different eloquence and different types of communications compared to politicians or the often technical language of administration. Sometimes there are easy solutions (e.g. before you describe what you are talking about, make a picture with your handy-cam and show it), sometimes it needs facilitation by professionals.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Verein Wiener Jugendezentren
Institution Type:   Non-Governmental Organization  
Contact Person:   Werner Prinzjakowitsch
Title:   Educational Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   +43 1 278 76 45
Institution's / Project's Website:   www.jugendzentren.at
E-mail:   w.prinzjakowitsch@jugendzentren.at  
Address:   Pragerstraße 20
Postal Code:   1210
City:   Vienna
State/Province:   Vienna
Country:   Austria

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