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Organised use of e-democracy tools for young people

This paper concerns use of an online policy debating forum: part of a suite of e-democracy tools for a local youth parliament. These e-democracy tools have been used and developed over the last 5 years and are vital to the parliament, as it serves a large rural area. The forum enables the involvement of all young people in the region in the youth parliament’s policy and decision making. This paper compares 2 debates for which use of the forum was organised and structured in local secondary schools. One of these debates took place in June 2004 and focussed on the age of electoral majority for the Scottish Parliament. The other, in February 2006, focused on smoking cessation schemes for teenagers. Results indicate that organising use within lesson time in schools is a very effective way to involve young people, both in terms of contributions to the debate and students’ perceptions of the experience. It also encouraged some people to get involved in their own time. These results are reflected in other research we have conducted into young people’s engagement in policy-making through e-democracy tools. Young people value the use of online tools, like the policy debating forum, to be involved in certain issues. However, they prefer to do this in an organised group, rather than under their own impetus. The paper discusses these results in light of investigations into young people’s engagement online and highlights what is to be gained from this approach.