Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska
Date of this Version
International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies (2013) 3.1: 409–432
There is a growing trend among developed countries to increase the participation of youth in societal and institutional decision-making. The challenge is to move away from an illusion of participation (tokenism) to genuine youth influence. This article transfers knowledge of a relatively new theory to the fields of youth engagement and community development. We pose deliberative democracy as a model to build bridges between youth and decision-makers. This concrete approach offers a platform for youth and adults to engage in a learning process as equal citizens and proactive leaders. Deliberative democracy can be understood as an umbrella term for different models of public deliberation. These models attempt to create carefully detailed conditions for increasing the legitimacy of decisions made through deliberation. Deliberative models that feature youth participation include youth juries, dialogue days between young people and decision-makers, and adult-youth participatory forums where the youth voice is usually a minority. We explore the role of relationships, collaboration, and leadership in generating democratic spaces for the inclusion of youth in policy formation and reform. The challenges associated with engaging youth are discussed along with examples of models from Australia, Finland, Canada, and the United States that promote effective youth engagement.