Please briefly describe the initiative, what issue or challenge it aims to address and specify its objectives. (300 words maximum)
The Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) provides a direct conduit for young people to shape public policy, direct conversations about issues that impact them, and connect community groups of and for youth to legislators and other leaders. LYAC is codified in Washington State law as the official youth advisory body to the state legislature, and consists of approximately 22 members, ages 14 to 18, who each serve a two year term. The exact projects it pursues vary year to year depending on the priorities of members, and include, but are not limited to: writing legislation, advising legislators, hosting local events, surveying youth statewide, collaborating with community organizations, and providing input in government work groups and task forces. LYAC also hosts an annual Action Day at the state capital to facilitate civic education and advocacy for students from diverse regions and socioeconomic statuses. LYAC was created to address the absence of any official, accessible mechanism for the opinions of young people to be heard by policymakers. Prior to its founding, youth representation and participation in the state political system was in a state of decline, and laws that impacted young people were being implemented without their consultation. Legislation on many issues of priority to students was rare or nonexistent. The founding of LYAC allowed youth for the first time to effectively express their needs within the state government, thereby improving the quality of laws passed, empowering an underrepresented demographic, and providing an open door to continued civic engagement for life.
Please explain how the initiative is linked to the selected category. (100 words maximum)
LYAC enhances the effectiveness of Washington State in reaching the SDGs because it broadens the reach of existing legislation and government initiatives that impact youth but lack the perspectives of young people. For example, LYAC helped expand Washington’s school dropout prevention efforts by helping develop the GATE initiative, which is building a re-engagement system for 16- to 24-year old youth. Similarly, the DREAM Act, which widens access to college financial aid for undocumented students, was passed in large part due to LYAC. Washington Governor Jay Inslee noted that “LYAC did really move the needle on the Dream Act.”
a. Please specify which SDGs and target(s) the initiative supports and describe concretely how the initiative has contributed to their implementation. (200 words maximum)
LYAC furthers Washington’s implementation of SDG 16, particularly target 16.7. By connecting the traditionally excluded youth demographic and policymakers, LYAC ensures that government programs are equitable and accessible to those under 18. One of many examples is the annual Action Day, during which LYAC convenes sometimes hundreds of youth, many of whom are disadvantaged socioeconomically or geographically. Attendees converse with state officials, attend workshops, and apply their acquired skills immediately by joining LYAC in meetings with legislators. Action Day ensures leaders understand youth perspectives on current issues while simultaneously promoting long-term relationships and participation between young people and their representatives in government. Action Day has brought together thousands of students and led to meetings with hundreds of elected officials. In addition, LYAC works to ensure youth representatives are contributing to decisions being made. In 2019, LYAC was heavily involved in the successful efforts to craft and pass Senate Bill 5395, which guaranteed comprehensive sex education to students. By providing key input prior to the legislation’s creation—by ensuring youth had a seat at the table while decisions were being made—LYAC was able to strengthen the bill and make certain that those in power were responsive to the needs of students.
b. Please describe what makes the initiative sustainable in social, economic and environmental terms. (100 words maximum)
LYAC is socially sustainable because it leads to lifelong civic engagement for youth who take part in and are impacted by the initiative. This long-term engagement increases their power as citizens, makes the government more representative, and confers further power upon LYAC as the value of youth perspectives is amplified. LYAC has no major impact on the economy. LYAC has no direct impact on the environment, but has successfully lobbied for legislation designed to address environmental issues.
a. Please explain how the initiative has addressed a significant shortfall in governance, public administration or public service within the context of a given country or region. (200 words maximum)
LYAC addresses a major shortfall in governance; before its founding, there was no effective, consistent, or official way for the 1 million+ students in Washington to make their voice heard in government. LYAC has filled this void by adopting an organizational framework to communicate youth opinion, drawing heavily on systems-thinking models and operating as a youth-adult partnership. LYAC focuses on ensuring that those in government truly listen to the perspectives of young people by forming strong connections with officials, actively seeking out ongoing initiatives in need of advice, and creating projects of its own. Recognition of LYAC’s work has prompted many leaders in government to actively seek out its advice when pursuing an idea of theirs. Consistent with LYAC’s youth voice focus, the members themselves determine the bylaws, organizational philosophy, and new members. LYAC also actively works to address the lack of diversity in governance by searching for members of various races, genders, geographies, socioeconomic statuses, and political ideologies.
b. Please describe how your initiative addresses gender inequality in the country context. (100 words maximum)
LYAC is conscious of the gender inequalities that plague governments, and as a result, when selecting new members, many efforts are made to reach a gender balance. It is particularly important to LYAC to afford the different genders equal opportunities for participation, not only because it properly reflects the diverse youth of Washington, but also because those involved in the program will be the leaders of the future. To achieve gender equality in governance, investments in leadership potential must be made early, and LYAC makes those investments through member selection.
c. Please describe who the target group(s) were, and explain how the initiative improved outcomes for these target groups. (200 words maximum)
LYAC serves as the intermediary between the youth of Washington and the state legislature, and the former population is the target group. With the support of LYAC, the legislature has written and passed important legislation designed to meet the needs of young people. Policy focuses of these laws have been wide-ranging, but include substance abuse, mental health services in schools, school dropouts, criminal sentences for minors, college access, voter pre-registration, homelessness, sex trafficking, and much more. Young people around the state have undeniably benefited from the increased access to education and support resources facilitated by LYAC. One law LYAC helped pass in 2020 will open the door to culturally diverse curriculums for hundreds of thousands of students in grades K-6. Another LYAC-endorsed law is improving access to extracurricular activities for thousands of low-income students over the next few years.
a. Please describe how the initiative was implemented including key developments and steps, monitoring and evaluation activities, and the chronology. (300 words)
LYAC was initially proposed by 11-year-old Alex Jonlin, who envisioned a “bureau of children’s opinions” to finally incorporate youth into discussions of major youth policy. Alex worked with his state senator, Ken Jacobsen, to create an organization founded on authentic youth engagement and involvement. Soon, LYAC was officially established with the passage of Senate Bill 5254 in 2005, creating the first state program for youth to make significant, lasting policy changes. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) was designated to provide staff support, but no funding was offered by the legislature to support this. However, unpaid cooperation between Senate staff, OSPI staff, and LYAC enabled the students to launch the initiative. In 2007, the legislature removed a sunset clause for the initiative, engaged the Lieutenant Governor’s office in the administration of LYAC, opened the door to donations, and, crucially, provided funding for the first time. This appropriation allowed LYAC to hire a 0.5 FTE dedicated adult program manager. Following the 2008 recession, however, funding was removed, and LYAC operated on volunteer time, private donations, and in-kind donations. It was not until years later that the legislature once again funded the initiative. In 2020, the law authorizing LYAC was amended to allow for the Lieutenant Governor’s office to collaborate with the state-authorized Washington State Leadership Board nonprofit if desired. This allows further flexibility in LYAC’s projects and financial goals, while still retaining public sector status and access.
b. Please clearly explain the obstacles encountered and how they were overcome. (100 words)
The main issues LYAC has experienced have been twofold. First, as a program that strives to represent those across geographic, political, economic, cultural,
racial, and gender boundaries, our biggest challenge is having a council that represents the diversity of the young people of Washington. In 2020, this obstacle was partially overcome when the 22-member cap was removed by the legislature, which allowed for broader flexibility in the selection of new members. Second, in past years nonexistent funding limited student participation, particularly in regard to travel. This was overcome by successfully lobbying the legislature for appropriations and actively pursuing private grants.
a. Please explain in what ways the initiative is innovative in the context of your country or region. (100 words maximum)
LYAC is innovative for three main reasons. First, its codification in state law confers real authority and access. Other youth groups do not have this power, which is one reason LYAC partners with them, so as to serve as an official bridge between legislators and otherwise powerless youth constituents. Second, where other civic education groups rely on adult recommendations from school principals or teachers, LYAC recruits students directly. This removes barriers to access. Third, LYAC’s innovation lies in the fact that the program is not a simulation; it is a real opportunity for youth to make important statewide changes.
b. Please describe, if relevant, how the initiative drew inspiration from successful initiatives in other regions, countries and localities. (100 words maximum)
The structure of LYAC was based partially on a preexisting youth advisory council in the state of Maine. However, LYAC incorporated new organizational structures. Bylaws were student-determined, principles of living systems theory were implemented, and adaptation was prioritized. This early focus on building an adaptable structure for the initiative paid off, as LYAC shifted in administrative control from OSPI to the Lieutenant Governor’s office and funding varied across years of operation.
c. If emerging and frontier technologies were used, please state how these were integrated into the initiative and/or how the initiative embraced digital government. (100 words maximum)
Emerging and frontier technologies were not used.
a. Has the initiative been transferred and/or adapted to other contexts (e.g. other cities, countries or regions) to your organization’s knowledge? If yes, please explain where and how. (200 words maximum)
Yes, and this initiative played a key role in the expansion. In 2008, LYAC worked with the state of Indiana’s Department of Education in the creation of a Legislative Youth Advisory Council there. LYAC has advised the states of California, New York, and Virginia in their efforts to pursue a similar idea in years since. In 2016, members met with international leaders at the World Affairs Council in Seattle to brainstorm the applicability of LYAC’s mission on a global scale in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Mexico. There are also youth councils established in the states of Louisiana, Maryland, and Colorado, though documents do not indicate whether Washington LYAC had an advisory role in their creation.
b. If not yet transferred/adapted to other contexts, please describe the potential for transferability. (200 words maximum)
This initiative has been transferred multiple times, but LYAC is confident that the program will further grow in popularity in years to come.
a. What specific resources (i.e. financial, human or others) were used to implement the initiative? (100 words maximum)
When LYAC was initially implemented in 2005, no dedicated funding was provided. Between 2005-2007, $6500 in-kind was provided by Senate staff in graphic design, information services, ethics training, and other logistical support, while $5000 was set aside from the Senate discretionary budget for travel and meeting costs. Funding has varied widely since, from $0 to $114,000 per annum. The legislature currently allocates $25,000 per annum. Throughout its existence, LYAC has had support from a variety of employees in public agencies, some paid and some unpaid for their assistance. Currently, a single adult program manager oversees the initiative.
b. Please explain what makes the initiative sustainable over time, in financial and institutional terms. (100 words maximum)
LYAC is an inexpensive initiative that pays societal dividends for a government looking to increase efficiency and representation. Its low cost ensures that even during times of strained budgets, LYAC persists. In the unlikely event that its financial allocation is too much for the government—which was the case during the 2008 Recession—LYAC’s ability to apply for grants and accept private donations provides another means of supporting operating costs. This initiative’s empowerment via state law ensures institutional sustainability as well, and as long as the legislature doesn’t take action to intentionally limit youth perspectives, LYAC will remain.
a. Was the initiative formally evaluated either internally or externally?
Please describe how the initiative is inscribed in the relevant institutional landscape (for example, how is it situated with respect to relevant government agencies, and how have these institutional relationships been operating). (200 words maximum)
Currently, LYAC is housed in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. However, the initiative also has deep ties to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which directs public schools in the state. Both organizations frequently collaborate in various projects and task forces, including the 2019 Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Workgroup and the creation of Building Bridges grants to incentivize the phase in of a statewide comprehensive dropout prevention, intervention, and retrieval system. In the last months alone, LYAC has also worked with the state Department of Health to plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the Attorney General’s office to develop a statewide tip line for youth. LYAC has joined forces many times with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families to foster youth engagement. After their first time working with LYAC, agencies and work groups often request further collaboration because the youth voice is an irreplaceable and important one.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts emphasis on collaboration, engagement, partnerships, and inclusion. Please describe which stakeholders were engaged in designing, implementing and evaluating the initiative and how this engagement took place. (200 words maximum)
LYAC is constantly adapting to meet the needs and goals of youth statewide and the priorities of members. LYAC members have full control over bylaws, projects, and endorsements. Members are also often the most critical of the organization, as they strive to maximize its success, expand its reach, and foster true representation. However, guidance in the design, implementation, and evaluation of this initiative is given by other interested parties as well. Local and issue-specific community groups that LYAC partners with help refine organizational goals and have provided key advice about the execution of various events. The Lieutenant Governor provides his input and advice on the selection of new members. Government employees who have teamed up with LYAC for years teach new members about its capabilities and past projects it has undertaken in order to promote further progress and success. When the legislation authorizing the initiative was first being considered by the legislature, OSPI helped implement the structure by clarifying the types of staff assistance that might be needed to keep student members safe in travel and events, and by encouraging the legislature to assign a staff member part-time to support the student group.
Please describe the key lessons learned, and how your organization plans to improve the initiative. (200 words maximum)
LYAC has learned the key lesson of engaging as much as possible with community organizations. While members of LYAC do their best to represent the ideological diversity and all opinions of youth in the state, they have still found it enormously essential to have continued dialogue with organizations doing more localized work. These community groups help LYAC refine overarching and issue-specific objectives. They are also key partners and attendees of Action Day. One especially important group has been Teens For Tukwila, a city-wide, teen-driven advocacy organization. Teens for Tukwila has provided guidance for the past several years by sharing their unique perspectives gained through dedicated local service. This year, LYAC is laying the groundwork for further engagement with community groups via a three-pronged approach. First, the initiative is working to identify and partner with previously unrecognized advocacy organizations at the city and state levels. Second, the initiative is emphasizing reciprocity; not only should groups be supporting LYAC, but LYAC should use its power to boost those groups in turn. Third, the initiative is working to establish long-term connections, so that when a new generation of LYAC members rises, infrastructure is already in place to continue work with the groups.