How Not to Kill the Will for Participation?

Kill Bill? No, not that great movie. We’re talking about how not to kill the will and build bridges instead. Meelika Hirmo spoke to Agustina Iskandar Crombach, the team lead of Citizen OS Indonesia, about the key elements for success with youth engagement, what mistakes to avoid and how the Youth Engagement Programme is bringing real change in Indonesia.

The volunteers of the Youth Engagement Programme. Photo: Citizen OS Indonesia.

The volunteers of the Youth Engagement Programme. Photo: Citizen OS Indonesia.

What do you see as the biggest challenges with online engagement?

Agustina Crombach: There are many! Number one in Indonesia is access to technology and the internet – not everyone has equal opportunities. In some areas, even electricity is not always available. This challenge needs to be taken into consideration.

Another very important issue is diversity – how to reach out to young people in rural areas, islands, young people with less economic opportunities, etc?

Of course, it’s also a challenge bringing feeling and emotional connection online. How to overcome such barriers? When you meet someone in person, it’s a very different dynamic.

When engaging with young people in our country, we also face the challenge of trust issues. They don’t always trust the government and don’t feel overly confident in working with the government.

And that’s not all. It is a challenge to make the discussions sustainable and ensure that the people involved are also engaged in the follow-up actions.

What are the opportunities?

Agustina Crombach: It’s really helpful to work online if you want to engage a bigger number of people. Physically, the resources can be very limited, but we can make it happen online with limited resources in terms of funding or time. And it also allows us the opportunity to be creative through using online tools. There is no “one size fits” for all young people. However, we can target a clear segment of young people online much better than could be done offline, for the most part at least.

For young people it’s an opportunity to make their voices heard. It might not always be possible to invest resources and go to a meeting in a big city, which in big countries might mean buying a plane ticket and finding accommodation. However, online, they can still work closely with others and fully participate.

What is the Youth Engagement Programme? What’s the purpose?

Agustina Crombach: Youth Engagement Program (YEP) is a capacity development programme we have created for youth community leaders in order to increase youth participation and social involvement. The role of using technology is promoted there throughout. In 2023, YEP was held specifically in Banda Aceh in collaboration with the Banda Aceh City Youth and Sports Agency and Australia Awards Indonesia Alumni.

The activities took place online from June to August and continued offline on 29–30 August in Banda Aceh City. 118 young people applied and 54 YOUNG Banda Aceh community leaders were selected to participate in the training from early June until the offline training event at the end of August.

Throughout the programme, the participants received various training sessions from mentors, guest speakers and government representatives, who were mainly from the National Youth and Sport Ministry and Banda Aceh City Youth and Sport Agency.

On the first day of the offline training event, the Governor of Aceh came to give an inspirational session and a discussion was held with YEP participants. The collaboration with institutions and decision makers took place throughout the programme.

Engagement is not just about profiling and outreaching to young people; it’s also about giving them recognition, making efforts to keep them involved and sharing the decision-making power. It’s important to keep working together with them on the mission and plans.

Did the young people have any influence on actual decision making?

Agustina Crombach: For example, the participants led 13 social projects. These focused on environmental issues, sexual violence, entrepreneurship opportunities and other social issues in Aceh. The projects and ideas were designed and chosen by the young people, and the programme also brought to life real actions and cooperation.

A good example of concrete outcomes is the Aceh UMKM Mandiri Berkah (AUMB), a kind of business centre led by young people where people have a chance to sell their various products and wares. The government provides a place for the market for free and the YEP Alumni help to run the initiative in a professional way. The government helps with promoting the event to all government institutions to encourage them to visit them regularly. The government also used its connections to bring together the provincial bank and other companies to support young entrepreneurs, exactly as they had requested as part of the YEP project.

Another example is that the ministry agreed to duplicate YEP training in two other regions in Indonesia as well.

How was the Citizen OS platform used?

Agustina Crombach: Before the training programme, the YEP committee published an idea-gathering topic on the Citizen OS platform. This idea-gathering initiative was targeted at the Banda Aceh population aged 16-40 years, which includes the YEP committees and participants. In addition, the collected opinions also became meaningful input for the YEP committee in developing training materials that suit the beneficiary group needs, namely the YEP participants.

In the main YEP session, we trained 54 participants to use the Citizen OS platform for their projects. The training included parts where we introduced the Citizen OS platform and its use cases, how to write an argument and how to create a topic for a public group. That learning aspect was also very valuable for the participants.

How would you define meaningful online engagement?

Agustina Crombach: It starts with people who care and take time to engage others in discussions. In our experience with YEP, the young people had previously felt left behind by the government. They were critical towards the government in regard to employment opportunities, etc – and they expressed this on the Citizen OS platform.

However, through the same platform, they put together suggestions on how the decision makers could improve the situation. It was meaningful that they could voice out issues, connect and communicate together, and not simply remain as powerless individuals. For me, meaningful online discussions are about people taking action to bring up issues that concern them and the wider community. Communicating argument-based opinions and making themselves heard by the decision makers is part of it. What made YEP meaningful is that young people learned how to engage in it, and the decision makers followed suit.

What did the young people request or demand from decision makers?

Agustina Crombach: In the Youth Development Index (2021) report submitted by the Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs, Aceh was reported to be one of the lowest ranking provinces in Indonesia in terms of employment opportunities, youth participation and youth leadership.

We tried to gather ideas from young people through our platform, on which we asked three things:

  1. What are the challenges faced by young people (specifically Banda Aceh), especially in taking a leadership position in communities or youth organisations?
  2. What do young people (specifically Banda Aceh) need in terms of youth capacity building to be able to create more impactful programmes in the community or beneficiary groups?
  3. What were their suggestions to make youth community activities in Banda Aceh more sustainable?

What was surprising for the decision makers was that they expected the biggest concerns for young people to be about a lack of money or funding. This was not at all the highest in the young people’s lists. When it comes to recommendations for government, what they expected was capacity building and training opportunities, a space to use for their initiatives and government supported collaboration with different stakeholders.
We published a full report on the process and outcomes of the Youth Engagement Programme, which you can find here.

Want to know more?
Read the Youth Engagement Programme 2023 report!

What are the key elements for successful online engagement?

Agustina Crombach: It’s very important to be flexible. We have to go where the young people are, not expect them to join us. We have to understand what tools and spaces they use. We have to give options and let them decide the best way for them to be engaged.

How can we reach out to less privileged young people?

Agustina Crombach: First, we have to understand who they are. In Indonesia, we have over 1,000 ethnicities and very many religions. How best can we ensure we don’t only engage the majority? We need to identify who these community representatives are? Who in the society are marginalised? Where are they? Which community is working with them closely already? Then we have to reach the community and work together. If we work alone, it’s so much more resource-heavy. Local partners who work with these people are essential for increasing diversity.

What are the common mistakes that people make when engaging with people online?

Agustina Crombach: I have seen decision makers underestimating the experience and perspective of young people. In fact, young people are very knowledgeable.

Often, I also see that those who engage are not ready to adapt and be flexible.

Another mistake I also see and have made myself is being afraid of conflict and stalling the process. That’s why people and organisations end up engaging a small familiar group. However, these decisions might influence a big group and this tendency to avoid conflict in the first place can bring about a much bigger conflict at a later phase. I now try to make sure I inform as wide a group of people as possible with the aim of consulting them and getting feedback. This is how I receive more input. I now see it’s worth being patient and taking the time to give people enough space to be engaged.

How not to Kill the Will (for participation)?

Agustina Crombach: It’s not enough just to build the bridge. You have to keep the connection going as well. Engagement is not just about profiling and outreaching to young people; it’s also about giving them recognition, making efforts to keep them involved and sharing the decision-making power. It’s important to keep working together with them on the mission and plans.

Picture of Meelika Hirmo

Meelika Hirmo

Communications Lead

Shaping strategic communication and giving more momentum to the mission and initiatives of Citizen OS.

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