Skip to content

Guidance Note - Youth in Governance

Guidance Note


The present guidance note is meant as inspiration for youth issues to be considered in connection with governance programmes.

With over 1.8 billion youth in the world, young people are key agents in building democratic cultures and societies. During their youth, young people establish their identity as individuals while beginning to interact independently with the broader community. As community members, youths are entitled to rights (to vote, to a fair trial, etc.) and they hold obligations (to pay taxes etc.), but their ability to claim rights and fulfil obligations depends on their knowledge and skills related to active citizenship and the opportunities they are given to practice their civic engagement. Active citizenship is consequently identified as one of the most important activities for a sound transition to adulthood.3

Youth civic engagement has different expressions and is practiced in different ways from formal political participation in political parties, elections etc. to the involvement in youth-led organisations and social movements holding their governments accountable for changing policies and providing better and more youth-friendly public services. Through civic engagement, young people develop the problem-solving skills they will need in adulthood, they build self-esteem and leadership skills and increase their influence and personal stake in their community and country.

Young people’s active citizenship is, among others, nurtured by:

  • Civic empowerment, which develops young people’s agency and enables them to make informed decisions, demand a say and take effective part in societal matters
  • The existence of an enabling environment formed by inclusive national policies, supportive legislation and structures as well as inclusive social and cultural practices which ensure that young people are provided with adequate and genuine opportunities to be included in political processes and decision-making, and which make them feel safe and secure when exercising active citizenship.


The enabling governance environment

An enabling environment for young people’s active citizenship is synonymous with the enforcement of the fundamental civic freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression as well as the concept of “good governance” promoting democracy, political participation and responsiveness to people’s needs, rule of law, respect for and protection of all human rights, a functioning system of public finance and corruption-free conditions.

Creating an enabling environment for young people’s active citizenship requires the involvement of different initiatives and different actors at different levels who play their respective roles in facilitating young people’s opportunities and actual participation. An enabling environment consists of policies promoting young people’s participation at national, provincial regional and local levels; mechanisms for making participation accessible and appealing to youth; for example through youth quotas, financial support to initiatives on active youth citizenship or campaigns challenging age discrimination and inspiring young people to run for political offices5; and legislation safeguarding their rights when they engage in societal matters. Moreover, inclusive and supportive social and cultural practices are crucial for creating an environment where young people are regarded as equal and valuable participants.


Danish support to youth civic engagement is supported by governance programmes focusing on, for example, empowering young people to take part in the democratic processes (e.g. voter’s education), but mainly by granting funds for youth-specific actions via different civil society organisations and decentralised umbrella funding mechanisms.

Due to the often informal nature of active citizenship, Danish support to young people’s civic engagement is mainly channelled through development engagements (DEs) with umbrella organisations or via civil society support mechanisms (cf. the CSO funding mechanisms in Uganda, Tanzania, Mali), or through strategic partners or Danish CSO programmes.6 These programmes are flexible and can work directly with young activists engaged in youth-led, community-based organisations and informal youth movements, and they are suited for creating sustainable structures for young people’s continued civic engagement.


Example: Mobilising youth for advocacy

With the support of Caritas Denmark (and Danida), the Community Integrated Development Initiatives (CIDI) has mapped all youth networks and groups in Uganda and engaged a number of them in the newly formed National Youth Advocacy Platform.

The Youth Advocacy Platform has conducted a situational analysis and identified six issues for advocacy on upstream policy and governance issues as well as downstream societal/grassroots issues. These are: ineffective youth participation in leadership, planning and budgeting processes; poor business framework conditions for young entrepreneurs; inadequate promotion of agriculture in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and increased teenage pregnancies leading to high school dropout.

The Youth Advocacy Platform has developed a strategy for bringing forward the advocacy issues and identified key decision-makers, key influencers and partners.


Youth and governance in Africa

The normative framework for youth governance in Africa includes, among others, the African Youth Charter (2006); the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) (2007), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990). These frameworks spell out rights, freedoms and duties that accrue to young people and provide guidance on how to effectively and meaningfully promote their potential at all levels.

Several African countries have adopted national youth policies and established national structures such as national youth councils and ministries and agencies dedicated to youth issues. Also, several countries and political parties have established special youth quotas to deliberately guarantee youth participation in political processes, for instance in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Despite these success stories, several critics of the youth participation discourse continue to note that these initiatives have not adequately deepened nor enhanced young people’s participation in political and governance processes. For instance, young people are under-represented in formal public offices and political spaces, often leading to sidelining of their concerns and realities. Invariably, they are more involved in ad-hoc engagements or mobilisation, which are often the informal avenues for them to express their displeasure about politics and governance. These include: through demonstrations and strikes, initiating or signing a petition, joining pressure groups, volunteering time and donating to a cause or charity, boycotting a product, spreading and voting in social media surveys etc.

As an example of young people’s constructive governance efforts, reference is made to the African Union Youth Envoy partnership with the African Leadership Institute's Project Pakati.



Inspiration for a Theory of Change (TOC) on Governance

The following figure illustrates some of the key features and causalities important for youth, which should be considered when developing a ToC and a results chain for a governance sector engagement. As such, the ToC is intended to provide inspiration; it is a supplement to the development of the sector-specific ToC and not a stand-alone tool, nor is it a by youth tool. It is meant for inspiration in the youth situational analysis and understanding of the background against which youth mainstreaming and youth engagement should be formulated, planned and implemented. See also aid management guidelines: Guidelines for Country Strategic Frameworks, Programmes and Projects, November 2020.

Governance figur

Youth Assessment Tool: Governance

An important first step in mainstreaming youth within a thematic governance programme/development engagement is to assess the level of civic engagement among the targeted youth population (Youthhood - A Period of Personal and Social Development, Definition) and the extent to which the environment enables and/or hinders their active democratic and civic participation.

The matrix below describes some of the common and overall hindering and enabling factors at different levels that may impact young people’s democratic and civic engagement. The matrix is followed by a format that will help to make a contextual assessment of issues of relevance for youth in governance programmes.


Hindering factors

Enabling factors



Young people are marginalised from democratic and civic participation by virtue of:


Young people are included in democratic and civic participation as a result of:


Attitudes towards them, labelling and stereotyping them as being irresponsible, inexperienced, lazy, rebellious, etc.

Acknowledgement of young people as a resource in decision-making and development


Cultural, religious and family norms undermining particularly young women’s public engagements

Interpersonal support from peers, family, colleagues and other stakeholders


Lack of laws, policies and practices supporting youth participation or existence of laws and policies which are not implemented (leading to under-representation in formal structures such as local government and parliament)

Youth policies and youth quotas, etc. being implemented, active citizenship education, etc.


Lack of rights, knowledge, skills and motivation

Knowledge, skills and motivation, including:

1) Self-awareness and awareness of one’s view of the world

2) Awareness of rights

3) Awareness of power dynamics and how to participate in decision-making processes

4) Ability to gather information, analyse a situation, solve problems and make or influence decisions, etc.


The following example of guiding questions for a contextual assessment of the realities of young people in relation to governance sector programmes offers a supplement to the general thematic and contextual analysis and appraisals, cf. Annex 1: Context Analysis in the Guidelines for Programmes and Projects, AMG, November 2020.

Contextual assessment: youth


To what extent are young women and men knowledgeable of:

  • Their right to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives and societies?
  • Local/national decision-making structures and processes?          


Do young women and men have adequate knowledge and skills to make informed decisions, assume leadership etc.?


What are young people’s main sources of civic information (social media, TV, meetings, radio, newspapers) and to what extent are these sources trustworthy?


To what extent are youth exercising active citizenship:

  • Do they vote?
  • Do they participate actively in party politics, CSOs, community-based organisations, civic movements, etc.?
  • Do they engage actively in community development activities?


To what extent are youth engaged in local/national governance processes:

  • Do they run for office? if yes, to what extent are they elected?
  • Is their engagement ad hoc or formalised in mandated mechanisms?
  • Is there any difference in regard to young women’s and young men’s engagement?

Contextual assessment: environment


Is there a national youth policy (or any other policy) with a framework for institutionalised youth participation in decision-making?


Does adults’ perception of youth influence young people’s civic engagement?

  • Are there certain groups of youth who are less likely to be included in decision-making due to gender, social or educational conditions, disability etc.?


Which institutionalised local/national platforms or mechanisms (youth councils, youth advisory boards etc.) exist for young people to participate in decision-making processes?

  • Are there specific youth quotas/seats in local/national governance bodies? If yes, are they respected?


To what extent do youth believe:

  • That local/national decision-making structures are inclusive and responsive?
  • That they can freely and confidently express their voice and hold government and duty bearers accountable?


What are the main formal/informal barriers excluding young people (or parts of the youth population) from meaningful democratic and civic engagement?

Further reading and inspiration on governance


UNDP: Youth, Political Participation and Decision-making: A fact sheet containing examples of youth empowerment and democratic governance and providing a way forward for support to young people’s participation in inclusive political processes and democratic practices through three measures, covering the wider enabling environment, individual capacity building and a specific focus on young women.


UNDP: Enhancing Youth Political Participation throughout the Electoral Cycle: A Good Practice Guide (2013): marks UNDP´s first review of programming strategies for youth political participation beyond the ballot box. The Good Practice Guide identifies key entry points for the inclusion of young people in political and electoral processes and compiles good practice examples of mechanisms for youth political empowerment around the globe, focusing on innovative instruments with the potential to provide fresh inputs for UNDP programmes as well as initiatives by other stakeholders.


UN-DSEA: Youth Civic Engagement (2015): The World Youth Report explores young people’s participation in economic, political and community life, responding to growing interest in and an increased policy focus on youth civic engagement in recent years among governments, young people and researchers. The report provides thematic insights on economic, political and community engagement, coupled with expert opinion pieces so as to provide robust and varied perspectives on youth engagement.


US Department of Health and Human Services: A homepage presenting a game plan for engaging youth in promoting health and healthy development; including Principles for Youth Engagement and Eight Successful Youth Engagement Approaches.


Save the Children: A youth participation best practice toolkit (2016): Part one: what to consider when designing youth participation programmes aimed at the social and civic empowerment of vulnerable youth. Part two: tools, methods, tips, exercises and suggested training workshops for youth participation programmes and projects aimed at the social and civic empowerment of vulnerable youth.


Save the Children: A Toolkit for Monitoring and Evaluating Children’s participation (2014): Six booklets providing a conceptual framework for measuring children’s participation, together with guidance on how to undertake monitoring and evaluation and practical tools that can help gather the required information. Although the focus is on children’s participation, the toolkit is also highly relevant for youth participation.


Action Aid/Activista: Beautiful Rising. An online toolkit for creative activism helping social movements to become more strategic, creative and effective.

1 Danida, The World We Share

2 Ibid., pp. 33-35

3 World Bank, World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation. (Washington, D.C., 2006)

4 Danida, The World 2030, p.13

5 See for example the global campaign Not too Young to Run initiated by the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in partnership with UN and civil society organisations (2016)

6 Youth leading the World 2030: A review of Danida’s youth-related engagements, Restless Development, Danida, January 2017, pp. 62-67 and The World 2030 p. 7 where it is stated that In cooperation with organisations that work with young people, we will ensure that young people are increasingly involved in the future society


In case of questions, please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Global Youth Advisor, Natascha Skjaldgaard ([email protected])