Winter Democracy Academy: A Week-long event Focused on Youth Participation for Stronger Local Democracies

The first edition of Winter Democracy Academy (WDA) took place from 10th-16th December 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. It was organised by DYPALL Network and the Lisbon Youth Centre, cooperating with several institutions with important work on youth participation as one of the pillars of local democracy. The WDA strived to become an event of reference for youth workers, decision-makers, experts in the field, and institutional representatives, providing them all with a space to meet, debate, build their capacities, and cooperate on youth participation issues. To achieve this ambitious goal, the event included several activities that were held simultaneously. 

The DYPALL Network European Steering Group and Network Members Meeting took place in the first days of the event. The Steering group meeting kicked off with the 2023 overview of DYPALL Network’s work, which encompasses a variety of international projects, including activities such as training courses, an international conference, study visits, partnership-building activities, youth exchanges, a study session, etc. Discussions during the meeting emphasized the importance of aligning projects, optimizing resources, and measuring impact on stakeholders and policy-making. Steering group members highlighted the importance of standardising evaluation methods, enhancing project connectivity, and tracking impact through feedback and quality event planning. In 2024, DYPALL Network aims to organise additional online conferences, extend study visits, and implement an environmental action plan focusing on sustainability workshops to further our outreach and impact.

During the Assembly of Members on the 12th of December, DYPALL Network Coordinator Bruno Antonio emphasized the organization’s ongoing dedication to promoting youth engagement and advancing democracy at the local level. Among others, efforts included creating publications on youth migrant participation and local youth councils to establish migrant-friendly cities and enhance youth involvement spaces. The emphasis was also put on peer-to-peer education projects like EU Influencers and study visits as effective capacity-building opportunities. DYPALL Network’s structural initiatives aimed to strengthen democracies, empower youth, and collaborate more closely with Portuguese municipalities for improved local youth policies. Members showcased diverse projects and engaged in sessions emphasizing youth participation and sustainable democracies, fostering discussions to enhance the network’s international events and emphasizing inclusive processes within DYPALL Network.

The Partnership Building Activity (PBA) ‘‘Building synergies for sustainable local democracies’’ was held all week, parallel to the other activities. The PBA brought together 24 participants from Norway, Turkey, Croatia, Spain, North Macedonia, Slovakia, Greece, Portugal, Armenia, Georgia, Serbia, Cyprus, and Italy, who shared a common goal: to strengthen the role of young people in shaping sustainable democracies. Through a series of sessions based on non-formal education methods, participants explored various aspects of youth participation, the Erasmus + Programme, and collaborative methods and tools for the creation of sustainable projects. Key sessions included a joint discussion focusing on integrating diverse organisational and cultural perspectives to address youth participation and its role in building sustainable democracies. The activity also featured project presentations, highlighting innovative initiatives to increase voting quality and turnout and enhance peer education. Each project demonstrated the participants’ commitment to creating impactful changes in their communities.

Furthermore, the international conference, “Today’s Democracy Challenges,” took place on the 13th of December, providing a space for reflection and exchanges between youth leaders, researchers, representatives of civil society organisations and local authorities. During the conference, his keynote speech, titled “Today’s Democracy Challenges,” was delivered by Sofia Serra-Silva, a political scientist and professor at the University of Lisbon. Her presentation clarified the concept of ‘political pathologies’, the ‘democracy deficit’, and the legitimacy crisis threatening modern democracies. After that, youth leaders had a space to debate the state of modern democracies and the place of youth in them during the roundtable “Emerging Solutions for Youth Participation Challenges”. The conference was finalised with the presentation series of youth work in practice: “European Projects and Practices”, where three participatory projects were presented: My Polis, Transformers, and Next Generation Academy

The conference day continued with a Study Visit, “Exploring Successful Lisbon Youth Work Practices,” to the Youth Center in the Municipality of Almada. The Study Visit illustrated practical challenges in engaging young people in democratic processes. The discussions and observations from this conference provide valuable perspectives for future initiatives aimed at enhancing democratic participation and addressing current challenges. 

Overall, the week-long Winter Democracy Academy featured a variety of activities and highlighted the importance of engaging youth in democratic processes and fostering sustainable democracies by enhancing local youth policies. The Winter Democracy Academy Week and International Conference “Today’s Democracy Challenges” was organised with the support of the Erasmus + Programme through the Portuguese National Agency and the European Commission, in partnership with Lisbon Youth Center (CJL) of the Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are, however, those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Commission. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.