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Designing the Ultimate Democracy Game: The South Caucasus Youth Parliament Programme

Democratisation and political participation are major issues in South Caucasus countries Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. For instance in Georgia, 70 percent of the people doesn't see the need for voting and elections. Startling figures, which indicate low faith in such mechanisms. Can this be changed? Can we help young people learn about the workings of democracy and build their trust in such institutions?


South Caucasus Youth Parliament Programme

Governmental organisations in the South Caucasus, as well as the European Commission and Christian Democratic Parties in the Netherlands and Germany developed a programme to introduce the concept of democracy and political participation for the next generation. The goal is to develop a simulation exercise for 5,000 school pupils from 60 secondary schools within the three countries. This exercise will lead to the election of 20 pupils per country who will be representing their nations in the South Caucasus Youth Parliament. During the parliament meetings 15 students will be elected to go to Brussels and articulate their needs and present their resolutions to parliament members of the European Union and civil organisations.


Designing a democracy simulation

Kessels & Smit Something has been invited by the Georgian office of the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and the Dutch Eduardo Frei Foundation (EFF) to facilitate the design process of these 3 activities. In February the first draft of the simulation exercise for secondary schools was developed in Tbilisi. Tjip and Pieterjan hosted a design session with a team of national experts and coordinators from the different countries. The goal: to formulate crucial democracy experiences and create learning activities.

Last week Tjip and Pieterjan were in Tbilisi again to work with the same team on a final draft of the simulation exercise for secondary schools and to develop a script for the first meeting of the South Caucasus Youth Parliament Program in 2011.


Experiencing the power of experiences

We again were struck by the importance of using practical, real-life experiences as a starting point for the design of learning activities - instead of, let’s say, theory on national legislation. And to think in terms of creating learning experiences, instead of in designing lessons. This sometimes leads to unconventional, but very powerful ideas. One of the learning experiences that was created, for instance, was called Overcoming national perceptions. The gist is that students are invited to make friends and have fun with students from other countries. That may sound trivial, but is very crucial if you know that, traditionally, these kind of network activities are not easy to organize. Some meetings in the past where students from the three countries showed up, resulted in fights - which at one point even led to the death of one student...

Therefore, contrary to traditional learning approaches based on plenary transfer of knowledge in lectures, we focused our design on informal contact moments between the students. They should be very well scripted and prepared to make sure that the experiences of the students will be positive, so they will overcome national sentiments and pre-conceptions, build mutual respect and even come to realise that it is possible to maintain friendly connections with students from other countries.


Making friends

Building relations will not only be important during the simulation, it was also a vital part of our design activities last week. People in our project team felt like they were making new friends. We are very happy with the fact that relationships within our project team have grown. And we ourselves feel that we have made some new lasting connections as well!


Next steps

As a final present, Kessels & Smit Something has been invited to facilitate the first meeting of the South Caucasus Youth Parliament Program. It will be a great experience to realise our design, and learn from putting the ideas into practice. And a wonderful opportunity to support the pupils in strengthening democracy in the countries of the South Caucasus!

Next step in this design-process will be to involve the teachers in the design of the simulation exercise. We made plans to go back to Tbilisi at the end of the summer or even earlier to work with teachers on the simulation game. This means we will visit all three countries! We will keep you posted, through our website and twitter.

Check www.kessels-smit.com/something! Or follow us on Twitter (@kssomething).