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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.

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 offices; 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, 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.

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,

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

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?



In case of questions, please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Global Youth Advisor at [email protected]