2. Empowering Youth to Succeed: A Call for Action

The transition from adolescence to an autonomous life marks an important stage in the life course. As young people reach the age of majority, they gradually leave family home, enter the workforce, and obtain new rights and responsibilities (Greeson J.K.P., 2013[1]). In this period, adolescents and young adults require access to targeted policies and services to realise their potential and contribute to society and economy.

As inequalities at a young age compound over the life course, governments must seek to create an environment in which youth from different socio-economic backgrounds enjoy access to youth rights, quality education, employment opportunities, health services and youth work, among others. Youth dropping out from school or stuck in unemployment will start their adult life with less income and less financial security, which can delay their achievement of classical milestones of adulthood (see Chapter 1) (OECD, 2013[2])). For example, being unemployed at a young age can have “scarring effect” in terms of long-term career paths and future earnings. Young people with a history of unemployment are likely to have lower wage levels, poorer prospects for better jobs, and ultimately lower pensions (OECD, 2016[3]). Moreover, disruptions in the transition of youth to an autonomous life can create significant long-term costs for societies and economies, undermining social cohesion and productivity levels as well as the potential for inclusive growth. One in ten youth aged 15-24 years on average across OECD was not in education, employment or training in 2019, which represents an economic cost equivalent to between 0.9% and 1.5% of GDP across OECD (OECD, 2020[4]).

Chapter 1 illustrates that despite the gains in educational attainment and health outcomes over the past decades, the transition to an autonomous life has become more difficult for young people (OECD, 2019[5]). Various OECD indicators such as housing affordability, NEET youth and disposable income confirm this trend (see Chapter 1). Governments must also seek to address the specific challenges faced by young men and women from diverse backgrounds. For instance, girls and young women now outpace boys and young men in educational attainment, on average, in OECD countries (OECD, 2017[6]). Yet, gender gaps in employment, entrepreneurship and public life persist with rather slow improvements for young women (OECD, 2019[7]). Other intersecting identity factors, such as sexual orientation, geography, culture, migrant status, ethnicity, disability and income may exacerbate existing inequalities within and across age groups. Uncovering structural and multi-dimensional inequalities among youth therefore requires a thorough analysis of how age intersects with other identity factors.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbates these challenges, most notably in the fields of education, employment, mental health and disposable income. For instance, youth (15-24) were the group that was most affected by the rise in unemployment between February and August 2020 (OECD, 2020[8]). In turn, disruptions in their access to education and employment opportunities can create new challenges, such as difficulties in paying back school loans (OECD, 2020[9]). To avoid exacerbating inequalities and involve young people in building societal resilience, governments need to anticipate the impact of mitigation and recovery measures across different age groups and strengthen the governance arrangements in place to deliver services and policies, which are more responsive to youth’s needs.

Young people have specific needs and interests across all policy and service areas including in employment, education, health, justice, housing, transportation, sports, gender equality and environment, among others. Findings from the OECD Youth Governance Surveys show that youth organisations in OECD countries are most satisfied with the work of their government in the area of sports, culture and leisure. However, they express significantly lower levels of satisfaction in the field of housing, followed by employment and economy, which could in turn also affect their trust in national governments (Figure 2.1). A co-ordinated approach across these policy areas is needed to avoid the fragmented delivery of policies and services that can exacerbate the “transition challenge”.

The capacity of governments to plan, co-ordinate, steer, monitor and evaluate youth policy is crucial to create synergies and overcome institutional silos by involving all relevant stakeholders in government and civil society. This is particularly important in times of crises as exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic (OECD, 2020[9]). However, the findings of the OECD Youth Governance Surveys confirm that significant governance challenges continue to persist. For instance, a majority of respondents identifies the lack of institutional mechanisms and incentives for co-ordination and limited capacities as barriers to better co-ordinate with other ministries and subnational authorities (Figure 2.10).

Findings from the 2018 Youth Stocktaking Report demonstrate that adopting an integrated approach to public governance is critical to overcome these challenges (OECD, 2018[10]). Effective, inclusive and transparent governance is a driver of trust of young people in governments and contributes to the legitimacy of government action (OECD, 2020[9]).

This chapter will present the results of the OECD Youth Governance Surveys and benchmark country practices against the OECD Assessment Framework for National Youth Strategies. The framework draws on four pillars, which together form an integrated public governance approach to support youth in their transition.1 The results for each pillar are presented in separate sub-sections:

  1. 1. Strategic planning through national youth strategies (NYS) to unite governmental and non-governmental stakeholders behind a joint vision and identify strategic goals and objectives;

  2. 2. Institutional arrangements to allocate clear roles, responsibilities and adequate capacities across all stakeholders to achieve strategic objectives;

  3. 3. Legal frameworks that encourage young people’s access to public life and services, and that do not discriminate based on age; and

  4. 4. Governance tools in rule-making, public budgeting and procurement to ensure youth-responsive policy outcomes.

Each sub-section assesses key trends across OECD member and selected non-member countries and discusses solutions for addressing existing gaps based on good practices collected through the survey. The chapter concludes with policy recommendations to support countries chart a course for adopting an integrated governance approach to achieving youth-responsive policy outcomes as well as for developing a forward-looking OECD agenda on youth empowerment.

Strategic planning is a key management tool to ensure that political commitments translate into actionable plans and strategies and guide the work of the government over time (OECD, 2019[11]). Strategic planning needs to be linked with the budgeting process to ensure that the allocation of public resources serves the achievement of strategic priorities, as recognised by the OECD Policy Recommendation on Budgetary Governance (OECD, 2015[12]).

As youth policy cuts across various ministerial portfolios, a clear and comprehensive strategy can help to structure priorities and guide the implementation of programmes and delivery of services. It can also help set and communicate the rationale, objectives, expected outcomes and targets, and hence facilitate policy planning across the whole of government. It also encourages governments to integrate youth-specific considerations into sectoral policies and enhance policy coherence.

Across OECD member and selected non-member countries, national youth strategies (NYS) are a common tool for government-wide strategic planning and priority setting in youth policy. NYS can also serve as guiding frameworks to engage relevant non-governmental stakeholders in shaping programmes and services for young people. Therefore, they play an important role to enable a co-ordinated and holistic approach to youth policy. A large majority of respondents from OECD member and non-member countries (80%) reports adopting and implementing a NYS as a top priority to deliver policies and services that are responsive to youth’s needs.

However, NYS are one way to set and co-ordinate policies for young people. Some countries pursue a different approach. For example, Denmark adopts a transversal approach to youth policy in which several policy documents cover different aspects of young people’s lives while there is no single strategy providing a policy umbrella (European Commission, 2019[13]).

As of April 2020, 76% (25 out of 33) of OECD countries have an operational national or federal multi-year youth strategy in place (Figure 2.2). Australia is in the process of elaborating a strategy. Among the non-member countries responding to OECD Youth Governance Surveys2, Argentina, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Peru, and Romania have an operational national youth strategy, and Brazil and Ukraine are currently formulating one.

National youth strategies provide a framework to advance youth-specific and broader society-wide goals. Indeed, all countries with a strategy in place or elaborating one confirm that they intend to support young people in their transition to adult life (Figure 2.3). A large majority of responding countries also aims at improving youth’s access to youth-responsive public policies and services (80%) and integrating youth concerns across all relevant public policy/service fields (84%). On the other hand, there is a notable discrepancy between the emphasis placed on desired outcomes and the means to achieve them, as less than two in three responding entities underline the importance of strengthening governance tools and mechanisms to implement the strategy.

Adopting a national youth strategy alone is not sufficient. When young people are not engaged or when there is a lack of adequate human and financial resources dedicated to its implementation, a strategy is unlikely to deliver on its goals. These challenges can further be exacerbated in the absence of a single public body which co-ordinates cross-sectoral implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a strategy. Based on the OECD Assessment Framework for National Youth Strategies and the information provided through the OECD Youth Governance Surveys, the next section will benchmark country practices against eight principles to identify to what extent NYS in place are aligned with the principles of good governance, reveal potential gaps and present policy solutions based on examples of what works across OECD countries.

While a number of international frameworks exists to guide policy makers in preparing national youth strategies,3 there is no single unified framework, which sets measurable standards, indicators and international benchmarks. This report proposes eight principles of good governance to address this gap. Together, they constitute the OECD Assessment Framework for National Youth Strategies as illustrated in Table 2.1.

The framework points out that NYS should be evidence-based; participatory; resourced; transparent and accessible; monitored, evaluated and accountable; cross-sectoral; gender-responsive and supported by high-level political commitment. These principles mirror various OECD instruments that codify OECD practice and standards in public governance, in particular the OECD Recommendations on Open Government (OECD, 2017[14]), Gender Equality in Public Life (OECD, 2015[15]), Budgetary Governance (OECD, 2015[12]), Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (OECD, 2019[16]) as well as the OECD Policy Framework on Sound Public Governance (OECD, 2019[11]).

The framework provides an integrated approach to guide policy makers throughout the youth strategy cycle. All principles are intertwined with each other and they are mutually reinforcing. In fact, evidence from a correlation analysis run based on the results of OECD Youth Governance Surveys confirms that positive outcomes in one quality standard are associated with positive outcomes in others. For instance, when a strategy is transparent about the sources of information and the responsibilities of different stakeholders, it tends to perform better in the “accountability” dimension, too. Therefore, policy makers should seek to deliver on these principles in tandem.

Results from the analysis in the next chapters suggest that investments into the quality of national youth strategies can yield positive results. For instance, youth in countries that rank higher in the OECD Assessment Framework for National Youth Strategies tend to express greater interest in politics (see Chapter 3) (Figure 2.4).

Findings from the OECD Youth Governance Surveys demonstrate that the degree to which national youth strategies deliver on these principles varies significantly across countries. Across the OECD, only 20% of national youth strategies (5 out of 25) are fully participatory, budgeted and monitored and evaluated. In other words, a large majority of NYS risks being formulated without meaningful engagement of youth stakeholders, adequate resources and effective mechanisms to measure whether they deliver on their objectives or not. This reveals the need to investing into their quality.

The findings presented in Figure 2.4 reflect the extent to which NYS meet eight principles outlined in Table 2.1. The analysis shows that NYS formulated by Estonia, New Zealand and Austria align most closely with OECD Framework in terms of transparency, accountability and inclusiveness (Box 2.1). The methodology used to benchmark national youth strategies is further explained in Annex B.

High-level political support for the adoption of a national youth strategy is critical to ensure the necessary buy-in across the government and public and to mobilise resources. For example, in Canada, each minister receives a mandate letter – including the youth portfolio - with objectives to be met, which are available to the public. (Government of Canada, 2019[18]). In Austria, Canada, Colombia, Japan and Italy, youth affairs are co-ordinated by the Centre of Government (CoG)4. In Germany, the national youth strategy was launched jointly by the Minister in charge of youth affairs and the Head of Government by an inter-ministerial working group with the participation of all ministries.

The CoG (through the offices of Prime Ministers and Presidents) can play an important role in generating political will and leadership to pursue a cross-sectorial approach, both horizontally, across different ministries, and vertically, across different levels of government (OECD, 2014[19]). The findings from the OECD Youth Governance Surveys demonstrate that none of the countries in which the CoG assumes responsibility for the youth portfolio identified the lack of political will/leadership as a challenge for co-ordination.

The approach through which governments collect, apply and integrate evidence into policy and decision-making is an important determinant of successful policy design and delivery (OECD, 2019[11]). Throughout the youth strategy cycle, the evidence used by policy makers should be reliable, relevant, independent and up-to-date. Essentially, evidence must be disaggregated by age and take into account other intersecting identity factors to address inequalities based on gender, socio-economic background, ethnicity and disability, among others.

Youth strategies need to be grounded in national and local realities by reflecting the specific and heterogeneous challenges faced by young men and women in different circumstances. Sound evidence should also underpin monitoring, evaluation and feedback systems to inform future planning and, where needed, facilitate potential adjustments to the set course.

The systematic collection and use of age-disaggregated data remains uneven across policy areas. While almost all ministries in charge of youth affairs across OECD (88%) report to collect evidence to inform the design of their NYS, only half of them gathers age-disaggregated data and information. Among this group, more than two-thirds faced challenges during the collection of age-disaggregated data in various policy areas that are essential to support youth’s transition to autonomous life (Figure 2.5). Evidence gaps are most salient in the area of the social inclusion of vulnerable groups (45%), youth participation in public life (42%), conflict prevention (36%) and youth rights (36%). The absence of information from a youth perspective presents a considerable risk, which may undermine the achievement of progress in these areas.

Similarly, although a large majority of ministries in charge of youth affairs across OECD (88%) relies on evidence made available by line ministries, only every second responding line ministry actually collects age-disaggregated data. As a result, the specific interests and needs of young people in policy areas such as transportation, gender equality, housing, justice and environment may be neither assessed nor fully understood and used to inform policy design and the allocation of public budgets.

There is hence a need to use age-disaggregated evidence more systematically in the development of laws, strategies and government plans (Box 2.2). Policy makers also need to acquire the skills and capacities to ensure the availability and accessibility of age-disaggregated data in collaboration with statistics agencies, line ministries and non-governmental stakeholders. The elaboration of NYS provides a momentum to raise awareness for existing evidence gaps and secure a government-wide commitment to invest into the systematic collection and use of such data.

The active engagement of stakeholders helps policymakers identify their needs and deliver responsive policies and services. The OECD Recommendation on Open Government underlines that stakeholder participation increases government inclusiveness and accountability, and calls on governments to “grant all stakeholders equal and fair opportunities to be informed and consulted and actively engage them in all phases of the policy-cycle and service design and delivery” (OECD, 2017[14])

A participatory national youth strategy involves all relevant youth stakeholders at all stages of the policy cycle, from its elaboration and implementation to monitoring and evaluation. A large majority of OECD countries surveyed (88%) reports that organised youth groups and organisations have been consulted in the formulation of their strategies through varying mechanisms. Face-to-face public meetings (82%), advisory/expert groups (64%) and surveys (50%) were the most frequent.

Despite the widespread participation of youth stakeholders in the design phase, the survey results demonstrate that their engagement is often limited to specific stages, rather than happening throughout the full cycle. Only in half of OECD countries (10 out of 20), youth are involved in the definition, drafting and review phase (Figure 2.6). Most frequently, youth stakeholders are consulted or engaged during the drafting phase. This may undermine the ability of youth stakeholders to understand how their feedback was used to inform the final text (OECD, 2016[20]). For example, Canada and New Zealand published the feedback received by youth stakeholders during consultations in summary reports, which were made public, to demonstrate how their input was addressed (Canada, 2018[21]; New Zealand, 2019[22]).

In fact, the survey findings demonstrate the positive impact of youth stakeholders’ participation throughout all stages. When youth were involved in defining, drafting and reviewing the thematic areas, they tend to be more satisfied about the coverage, objectives and potential impact of NYS (Figure 2.7).

Youth stakeholders from diverse backgrounds need to have equal opportunities to participate and be heard in this process (Box 2.3). A thorough mapping of relevant stakeholders should inform stakeholder participation to ensure fair and inclusive representation while creating legitimacy and buy-in (OECD, 2016[20]). Not all young people are organised in specific groups and it is crucial to give equal participation opportunities to non-organised young people. The survey findings indicate that ministries of youth continue to struggle in promoting a fully inclusive approach as around 4 in 10 did not involve non-organised youth in the consultation process.

While an overwhelming majority of NYS across OECD countries (84%) covers social inclusion of vulnerable groups as a thematic area, only one-third conducted separate consultations with potentially vulnerable and marginalised groups (e.g. NEET youth; youth with disabilities). Other countries involved these groups in the general consultation exercises. A systematic approach to involving youth at risk of social or economic exclusion is lacking among countries. It is also exacerbated by the lack of age-disaggregated evidence on the specific challenges they face, potentially undermining the delivery of support programmes to those in need.

Adequate human and financial resources are needed to enable all ministries and stakeholders involved in the delivery of policies and services for youth to achieve the strategic objectives of NYS. Without a dedicated budget, a strategy is likely to miss its targets with potentially negative consequences for the relationship between youth and their government. Dedicated financial resources are needed to finance programmes and activities and to mobilise the necessary human resources within and across the public administration.

Given the crosscutting nature of youth policy, well-resourced strategies also facilitate inter-institutional co-ordination. For example, national youth strategies with dedicated resources allow institutions in charge of youth policy to use financial incentives to encourage other ministries to deliver on their part of transversal tasks (OECD, 2014[23]). Survey findings confirm that in countries where NYS are resourced, respondents tend to report less frequently that the lack of capacities (e.g. human and financial resources) is a challenge for cross-governmental co-ordination.

Across the OECD, however, only around two-thirds of countries (17 out of 25) with a NYS in place are budgeting it. Out of five responding non-member countries with a NYS, three reported that it is accompanied with a dedicated budget. Among the strategies with a dedicated budget, the allocations vary significantly. However, given the institutional differences in organising youth affairs, financial resources allocated to NYS cannot be compared easily across countries. Moreover, a majority of OECD respondents (11 out of 17) indicated that budget information is not available.

Strategies need to be transparent and accessible for citizens in order to contribute to building citizens’ trust and achieving policy outcomes more effectively (OECD, 2019[24]).

All OECD countries that have a national youth strategy publish it online. Information related to its implementation, including evidence from monitoring reports and evaluations, should also be made public to optimise its value for money, accountability and transparency. This underpins the accountability of national youth strategies and provides legitimacy for the use of public funds and resources.

Survey findings show that in 88% of responding OECD countries the results of monitoring and evaluation exercises are accessible publicly. Among them, 60% of countries publish the performance evaluation on the ministry/government website and 32% present it as part of an annual report that is available to the public. On the other hand, only around 6% use the social media account of the ministry/government to disseminate such information. Among non-member countries with NYS, 2 out of 5 publish the performance evaluation on the ministry/government website and as an annual report which is available to the public.

Country practices differ largely as to whether evaluation results are made available systematically or ad hoc. Findings of the OECD Report “Improving Governance with Policy Evaluation” show that the publication of evaluation results also depends on the commissioning institution and points to an uneven level of dissemination and publication across countries and institutions (OECD, 2020[25]).

These findings demonstrate that there is untapped potential for governments to use social media and other online channels to share the results and impact of their work in ways that youth and other stakeholders may find more relevant and easily accessible. Sharing such information in a “youth-friendly” way can ultimately improve the transparency, accountability and legitimacy of youth strategies.

Sound monitoring, evaluation and feedback systems provide policy makers with a better understanding of what works and what does not and support that policy choices are rooted in evidence-informed decisions. National youth strategies need to be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that decisions and budget allocations contribute to achieving their strategic objectives and to enable governments to alter course if needed.

Survey findings demonstrate that 95% of responding OECD countries set up specific mechanisms to monitor and evaluate their national youth strategies, albeit through varying approaches (Figure 2.8). While two-thirds of national youth strategies across the OECD set measurable objectives and targets, and prepare progress reports on a regular basis (e.g. at least annually), one in every four strategies is monitored and evaluated on an ad hoc basis, leaving it at the discretion of the entities in charge of youth affairs and their leadership. Around one in two strategies identifies key performance indicators (KPIs) linked to the youth policy objectives and targets, and establishes a data-collection system to track progress. Mechanisms to ensure the quality of the data collected are much less frequent and only used by around 8% of countries (e.g. quality control/assurance mechanism, competence development). Among responding non-members, while all countries with a NYS report having a framework to monitor and evaluate their national youth strategies, 2 out of 5 note that it is done on an ad-hoc basis.

A majority of OECD countries (64%) reports that evidence produced through monitoring and evaluation is used to inform policy-making, which suggests that at least two in three countries have put in place feedback loops. The OECD Report on Improving Governance with Policy Evaluation underlines that policy evaluation is a continuous exercise, which needs to be conducted ex-post and ex-ante (OECD, 2020[25]). However, the survey findings show that less than one in four countries with a NYS in place applies specific mechanisms for both ex-post and ex-ante evaluation.

Allocating well-defined mandates and specific resources to oversee and carry out policy evaluation is also crucial to ensure the generation of high quality evidence. Across the OECD countries, more than 90% of responding countries assigned an entity with the legal responsibility to monitor the implementation of the strategy. Primarily, this is done by the ministries co-ordinating the youth portfolio themselves (82%), whereas line ministries (27%) and the Centre of Government (14%) are less frequently in charge.

These findings resonate with the allocation of responsibilities for the evaluation of national youth strategies. Across the responding OECD countries, around two-thirds of NYS are evaluated by the ministries co-ordinating youth portfolio (65%), followed by line ministries (17%) and the Centre of Government (17%). In Hungary, the parliament is responsible for evaluating the NYS. The findings of the OECD Report on Improving Governance with Policy Evaluation show that the policy evaluation by independent oversight institutions (e.g. independent commissions, supreme audit institutions, Ombud’s offices) and the legislatures helps strengthen the accountability of governments and foster integrity (OECD, 2020[25]). For example, in Finland, the National Audit Office examined the results and effectiveness of youth workshops in 2013–2016, and the allocation of the resources and cost efficiency of youth work in 2014–2017 (Finland, 2020[26]).

Enabling youth stakeholders to monitor and evaluate NYS increases the transparency and accountability of NYS (Box 2.4). It can also be an important driver of youth’s satisfaction in different service and policy areas. Quantitative analysis of data from the OECD Youth Governance Surveys (Figure 3.15) shows that where youth organisations have been involved in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, they report a higher satisfaction with government’s performance across public service areas (such as transportation, health, housing, and employment among others) (see Chapter 3).

In Slovenia, the implementation of the National Youth Programme (2013 – 2022) is evaluated by the youth sector with a report which is prepared every three years. In Costa Rica, the results of the evaluation exercise are presented to the National Youth Assembly, which is tasked with approving the National Youth Strategy. The Assembly is composed of representatives of different civil society organisations, universities, political parties and ethnic groups and meets on a regular basis.

Youth as a policy area cuts across numerous policy domains. For example, the access to and quality of education has a direct impact on whether or not young people will find decent jobs, which, in turn, can ultimately have implications for young people’s health status. Similarly, increasing young people’s opportunities to participate in sports and enjoy quality free time can be significant for their physical as well as mental health. A cross-sectoral youth strategy should seek to address all relevant policy areas through a youth lens and create synergies with one another.

The transversal nature of youth as a policy area is generally recognised in the design of NYS. Although the thematic focus areas covered vary from country to country, an overwhelming majority across the OECD covers commitments to youth participation in public life (100%); employment and economy (96%); education and training (96%); health (92%); and sports (84%) (Figure 2.9).

On the other hand, topics such as justice (28%), transportation (52%), housing (60%) and digitalisation (60%) are addressed to a more limited extent, despite their significance for the transition of youth to an autonomous life. In fact, surveyed youth organisations based in OECD countries express lower levels of satisfaction with government’s response to their needs in these sectors which are less covered in NYS. On a scale from 1-5, where 5 represents the highest level of satisfaction, they rate housing (2.1), justice (2.5) and transportation (2.6) as service and policy areas which meet their wishes, expectations and needs to a lesser extent compared to others (Figure 2.1).

While these areas might be covered more extensively in sectoral strategies and programmes, findings call for a need to better understand and deliver on the needs of young people in these policy areas. It is also important to make sure that efforts in different sectors are complementary to each other. In this context, NYS could be further used as a policy umbrella to enable a holistic approach and joint-up efforts in the collection of age-disaggregated evidence and the delivery of services for young people by different ministries.

The 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life (OECD, 2015[15]) highlights that all government action should be assessed against the specific needs of women and men from diverse backgrounds to ensure inclusive policy outcomes. Gender mainstreaming in national youth strategies can contribute to reducing the gender gap amongst young people through systematic use of sex-disaggregated data, inclusion of gender expertise in the design of youth policy and definition of gender-specific objectives and indicators (OECD, 2019[7]).

In more than two-thirds of OECD countries (17 out of 25), national youth strategies focus on gender equality as a thematic area (3 out of 5 in non-member countries). However, around 30% of the responding entities across the OECD point to challenges in the collection of age-disaggregated data on gender equality, suggesting that the specific challenges faced by young women and men may not be fully captured in the NYS. This reveals an untapped potential to leverage NYS to advance gender equality commitments based on gender-specific objectives and sex-disaggregated data.

The previous section benchmarked the practices of OECD countries and selected non-member countries against eight quality standards of a national youth strategy. The analysis presented mixed results: a majority of countries are pursuing a cross-cutting approach to the design and delivery of youth-related objectives. At the same time, the availability of age-disaggregated evidence, a fully participative approach and the mobilisation of adequate resources and monitoring and evaluation capacities continue to present challenges across many countries.

A robust institutional framework is crucial to ensure the effective implementation and co-ordination of youth policy objectives. It requires a clear allocation of mandates and responsibilities across ministerial portfolios and different levels of government. It also calls for a holistic approach, which may involve the Centre of Government, institutions in charge of youth policy, line ministries, data-collecting and producing bodies, as well as independent oversight institutions, along with various non-governmental stakeholders.

Practices to assign formal authority for youth affairs vary significantly across OECD member and non-member countries participating in the Youth Governance Surveys. In one-fourth of the OECD countries, the youth portfolio is located within the Ministry of Education (8 out of 32). In five of these countries, a department dedicated to youth affairs exists. The second most common arrangement is a Ministry for Youth with combined portfolios (i.e. education, sports, family affairs, senior citizens, women, and children) (22%, 7 out of 32). Around 18% of OECD countries established a department dedicated to youth affairs within a ministry responsible for health, labour, social security and social policy (6 out of 32). In Austria, Canada, Colombia, Japan and Italy, youth affairs are organised at the CoG (i.e. Prime Minister’s Office or its equivalent).

In Chile, Mexico, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, a National Youth Institute operates under an assigned line ministry to co-ordinate and implement national youth policy. In the case of Spain, decision-making power is shared between the National Youth Institute (Instituto de la Juventud, INJUVE) and the Youth Inter-Ministerial Commission, presided by the Minister of Health, Social Services and Equality. Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Ukraine and Romania organise youth affairs through a Ministry of Youth with a combined portfolio. In Brazil, the youth portfolio is hosted by the Ministry of Women Family and Human Rights. Argentina’s National Institute of Youth operates as part of the Ministry of Social Development.

Despite the differences in institutional set-up, these government entities assume similar responsibilities. Findings from the OECD Youth Governance Surveys illustrate that nearly all entities in OECD countries (91%) draft and implement youth policy, and a large majority (81%) provide funding to non-governmental youth stakeholders. Around one in four central youth institutions do not engage in the design and delivery of programmes and services nor do they advise line ministries on youth policy. Among non-member countries, the institutions in charge of youth policy are also primarily tasked with drafting and implementing youth policy (100%). However, they appear to assume greater responsibilities for the design and delivery programmes and services dedicated to youth (100%) compared to those in the OECD countries (75%).

Only around half of these entities across the OECD countries (53%) reports collecting age-disaggregated data and information. At the same time, the survey findings show that 88% of OECD countries rely on evidence collected by the institution in charge of youth policy in the design of their national youth strategy. This observation raises questions about the administrative capacities in place to gather and use relevant data to inform strategy design and monitoring. For 73% of ministries in charge of youth affairs, strengthening age-disaggregated data collection is a priority, suggesting that policy makers are aware of the need to address this challenge (Figure 2.10). The two main priorities ministries in charge of youth affairs seek to address include the adoption and implementation of a national youth strategy (87%) and to improve co-ordination across ministerial portfolios and departments (79%)5.

The survey results demonstrate that the location of the youth portfolio within government can be an important indication of the political importance given to this agenda. It can also have an impact on its specific functions (e.g. monitoring and co-ordination roles), resources (e.g. budgets and human resources) and scope of influence (e.g. convening power). For example, a ministry dedicated to youth affairs will be part of the Cabinet where it can advocate for youth concerns at the highest political level. Survey findings also suggest that ministries of youth secure more human and financial resources compared to departments or units inside ministries of education or combined portfolios (see the next section). Across the respondents from OECD countries, they are also least likely to identify the lack of capacities as a challenge when co-ordinating youth policies across the government.

Similarly, the survey findings suggest that countries in which the youth portfolio is located at the CoG find it less challenging to secure political commitment to co-ordinate and implement youth policy, programmes and services. The CoG can also play out its convening power. Indeed, none of the respective youth units at the CoG reports that line ministries and subnational authorities do not show sufficient interest in the co-ordination of youth affairs. In contrast, 20% of the entities that are organised as ministries or departments perceive this as a challenge.

Comparative evidence on the available resources to implement youth policy, programmes and services is scarce. This derives from the fact that youth is a cross-cutting policy area and that young people may be beneficiaries of social services and other government programmes, which do not necessarily target them exclusively. However, limited comparative evidence exists also in terms of the resources dedicated to the entity in charge of co-ordinating the youth portfolio. Around 75% of responding OECD countries indicate that such information is not available. Similarly, around 60% of respondents in OECD countries report that no information is available on the number of employees who are primarily working on youth affairs.

Based on the results from a small sample of countries that provided evidence, it appears that dedicated youth ministries secure more funding than departments or units of youth within ministries of education or ministries with combined portfolios. And yet, the share that is specifically dedicated to youth affairs in these entities was less than 0.1% of the central government budget per annum for the fiscal years 2015-20196. In other words, approximately, out of EUR 1000 central government budget, less than EUR 1 goes to the youth entity in the form of a ministry and even less for other forms of organisation (e.g. unit, department). In line with the findings presented in the previous section, budget and staff information also confirms that ministries of youth are best equipped with human and financial resources compared to other institutional arrangements to host youth portfolio.

Moving forward, increasing the availability of information on budget and staff dedicated to youth affairs would facilitate comparisons across OECD countries and help bolster accountability.

The cross-cutting nature of policies and services for young people means that they cannot be implemented in isolation from each other. Strong co-ordination mechanisms across governmental and non-governmental stakeholders are required to avoid a fragmented delivery across policy areas (inter-ministerial or horizontal) and with regard to the involvement of subnational levels of government (vertical).

Several OECD countries have put in place an institutionalised mechanism for the inter-ministerial co-ordination of youth affairs (OECD, 2018[10]). These mechanisms often take the form of inter-ministerial or inter-departmental co-ordination bodies, working groups or focal points (Box 2.5).

Despite these arrangements, survey findings show that significant challenges persist to unite all relevant stakeholders behind a whole-of-government approach to youth policy. Indeed, the lack of institutional mechanisms (e.g. inter-ministerial committee/focal point) is highlighted as the most important barrier for inter-ministerial co-ordination (45%) by the central youth entities. Insufficient capacities in line ministries (42%) and within their own entity (39%) are also frequently mentioned. Around one-fifth identifies the lack of interest from line ministries as the main challenge.

Responding line ministries from OECD countries have a somewhat different perception (Figure 2.11). They largely point to the lack of incentives within the government entity responsible for youth affairs as the main challenge. In turn, they tend to agree with the central youth entities that the absence of institutional mechanisms and insufficient capacities in central youth institutions and line ministries further exacerbate this challenge.

These findings reveal that, across many OECD countries, there is a need to strengthen the institutional arrangements to facilitate inter-ministerial co-ordination by formalising these mechanisms and ensuring their effective use. In addition, governments should consider equipping their entities in charge of youth affairs and line ministries with adequate human and financial resources to create the administrative capacities for the collection of age-disaggregated evidence, inter-ministerial co-ordination and mainstreaming. Reported challenges in terms of limited incentives and interest to promote cooperation across institutions suggest that political buy-in is a precondition for a cross-sectoral approach. The OECD Survey on the Organisation and Functions of the Centre of Government (2013) shows that 86% of OECD countries use financial incentives or individual/collective performance targets to promote horizontal cooperation for transversal tasks (OECD, 2013[27]). These incentive mechanisms could also be used in the field of youth policy.

The most frequent interactions between young people and public administration take place at municipal or district level. Many government services that are critical for young people (e.g. healthcare, education, social services, etc.) are generally provided at the local level, especially in countries with federal or decentralised administrations. Effective vertical co-ordination is therefore indispensable to translate youth policy commitments into programmes and tailored services in collaboration with local public authorities and non-governmental stakeholders.

Findings from the OECD Youth Governance Surveys show that 74% of responding ministries in charge of youth affairs in OECD countries deliver policies, programmes or services at the subnational level (Box 2.6). More than half of the respondents underline (55%) that a further decentralised approach to the delivery of programmes and services for youth is a top priority.

However, the survey results indicate significant barriers to vertical co-ordination. More than half (52%) of responding youth entities, which deliver services at the local level, point to insufficient capacities among subnational level of government. Limited capacities in central youth institutions (26%), lack of institutional mechanisms (22%), lack of interest from subnational level of government (22%) as well as high turnover of leadership positions (22%) play a less significant role for most countries.

These challenges point to the need to equip subnational authorities with sufficient capacities, mandates and responsibilities to enable a joint-up delivery of programmes and services for youth. This also involves enhancing the administrative, policy and data-gathering capacity of subnational authorities, and ensuring that regional and local priorities are reflected in youth policy, including in national youth strategies. Institutionalised co-ordination mechanisms across the different levels of government involved are therefore crucial to avoid fragmented coverage and access to services for youth across geographical boundaries.

The mechanisms used to co-ordinate the relationship between the central and subnational levels are highly dependent on the country context. In particular, the extent to which public services in the field of education and others are delivered by subnational authorities is determined by the general organisation and distribution of competencies for public affairs (e.g. federal vs. unitary) and population size, among others. Despite the diversity of approaches, engaging municipalities and local governments as well as youth workers and youth councils at subnational level can provide context-specific evidence to inform youth policy-making at central level (see Chapter 3).

Legal frameworks are important determinants of youth’s access to public services for their personal development and transition to an autonomous life. They also shape youth’s access to engagement opportunities in public life and the relationship with the state as minimum age requirements determine the age to vote or run as a candidate in elections, among others.

A youth law or youth act is the most general and comprehensive legislative framework that identifies main stakeholders and fields of action both for state institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with and for young people (OECD, 2018[10]). It defines youth and youth institutions, youth age limits, actions to be taken by the state, in particular the executive branch, and to whom they are targeted, as well as financial and budgetary considerations (OECD, 2018[10]).

Across the OECD, 14 countries have a youth law in place (Figure 2.12). Among the survey respondents from non-member countries, Bulgaria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Romania and Ukraine adopted youth laws (Box 2.7). In some OECD countries without a general youth law, youth policy is laid out through various sectoral legislation and youth-specific commitments. For example, in Norway, the rights of youth are largely maintained through laws related to children and social care.

The analysis reveals that countries with a youth law are less likely to report that the lack of clear mandates or the lack of adequate incentives among governmental stakeholders in the youth field is a challenge (Figure 2.13 and 2.14). Indeed, among the OECD countries with a youth law, none of the respondents reports that the lack of clear mandates and incentives presents barriers for inter-ministerial co-ordination, whereas 29% and 21% of countries without a youth law do, respectively.

Some of the youth laws in the OECD member and selected non-member countries also include clarifications on the existing support structures to encourage young people’s representation and participation in policy-making. For instance, the youth laws in Estonia, Finland and Iceland guarantee stable sources of funding to national youth organisations that fit a set of criteria. In some OECD countries, such as Finland, Luxembourg and Slovenia youth laws also feature provisions on the status and functions of the National Youth Council, including membership conditions, responsibilities, among others. The role of national youth laws in promoting the representation and participation of young people in public life are further examined in Chapter 3.

Minimum-age requirements are common in various policy fields. They apply for the period of compulsory education, access to employment, marriageable age, voting age or age to run as candidate, criminal responsibility, access to specific justice or health services, and recruitment into the armed forces, among others (OECD, 2018[10]).

All OECD member and selected non-member countries covered in this report maintain the age of majority at 18 years, except Japan and New Zealand where the legal age of majority is 20 years. However, in the definition of the minimum age required to vote, run as candidate in elections and access certain public services, significant differences can be observed across the countries. These differences in turn directly affect the opportunities of adolescents and young adults to make decisions, access services and rely on protection provided by government.

Across the OECD countries responding to the OECD Youth Governance Surveys, the average age of criminal responsibility is 14.5 years. The age of beginning of compulsory education varies between age 3 (e.g. France and Mexico) and 7 (e.g. Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Poland). Apart from Greece (17) and Austria (16), for all OECD countries voting age for national elections is 18 years. This also resonates with non-members except for Argentina (16) and Brazil (16). Across the OECD, average age to run as a candidate to be a member of the parliament is 19.8 years. Across six OECD countries, young people can be recruited into the armed forces without being eligible to vote due to their age. In more than one-third of responding countries (15 out of 40), age requirements also determine young people’s access to medical advice and counselling for reproductive health services, which ranges from age 12 to 18. Minimum age requirements to access specific health services may have distinct effects on young girls, which can be exacerbated by discriminatory family codes (e.g. legal minimum age of marriage) (UNICEF, 2016[30]).

When asked about the appropriate minimum ages, the surveyed youth organisations suggest that age to run as a candidate and vote for national and sub-national elections should be lowered (Figure 2.15). Minimum voting and candidacy age requirements have a direct impact on the political participation and representation of young people and their ability to inform policies and decisions that affect them (see Chapter 3). At the same time, for the age of criminal responsibility and recruitment into armed forces, they maintain that the threshold should be slightly higher.

These findings illustrate that in setting these requirements, there is a fine line to balance the need to protect and the aim to empower young people, without creating unwanted legal barriers and age-based discrimination. Governments should therefore seek to review existing minimum age requirements, laws and regulations where they potentially discriminate and exacerbate existing inequalities based on age, gender and other intersecting identity factors.

Budgets, regulations and procurement are critical instruments government can leverage to generate youth-responsive policy outcomes. The OECD Recommendation on Regulatory Policy and Governance (OECD, 2012[31]) recognises regulatory impact assessments (RIAs) as an important tool for an evidence-based policy-making. In the context of youth policy, RIAs can help identify potential differentiated impacts of policy and rule-making on young people.

Over the last years, a number of countries are experimenting with innovative governance tools to ensure their policies and services are more closely aligned with the needs of young people. Survey findings show that the use of RIAs for youth policy goals however remains largely limited across OECD member and non-member countries. While a third of OECD countries use general regulatory impact assessments and provide specific information on the expected impact on young people, only 4 out 28 responding OECD countries apply ex ante “youth checks” to incorporate youth consideration more systematically in policy-making and legislation in Austria, France, Germany and New Zealand (Figure 2.16) (Box 2.8). In Iceland, the Ministry of Education Science and Culture in charge of youth portfolio reported developing a youth check in cooperation with the Office of the Ombudsman for Children.

Budgeting is another key lever at the disposal of governments to pursue broader societal objectives. The OECD Recommendation on Budgetary Governance (OECD, 2015[12]) recognises the budget as the central policy document, which helps governments translate their plans and aspirations into reality. Over the past years, many OECD countries have turned to budgeting to achieve different cross-cutting high level priorities with the introduction of ‘’gender budgeting’’ “green budgeting”, “wellbeing budgeting” and “SDG budgeting”, among others (Downes and Nicol, 2019[32]).

In the context of youth policy, budgeting can be a powerful tool to align the broader economic and social objectives of government with the interests and expectations of young people and future generations (see Chapter 4). By systematically taking the needs and interests of young people into account in tax and spending decisions, governments can anticipate the potential impacts of budgeting choices across different age groups and shape their revenue and spending decisions accordingly.

The OECD Youth Stocktaking Report (2018) describes youth-sensitive budgeting as a way to ‘’integrate a clear youth perspective within the overall context of the budget process, through the use of special processes and analytical tools, with a view to promoting youth-responsive policies’’ (OECD, 2018[10]). While there is limited evidence of youth-sensitive budgeting practices in the national budget cycle of any OECD country until now, Canada considers youth-specific objectives in the framework of gender budgeting (Box 2.8). Moving forward, countries could consider tapping into the unused potential of youth-sensitive budgeting to generate more inclusive outcomes (OECD, 2018[10])

Accounting for 12% of GDP in OECD countries, public procurement is an important tool to support wider cultural, social, economic and environmental outcomes that go beyond the immediate purchase of goods and services (OECD, 2020[34]). The OECD Recommendation on Public Procurement also underlines the importance of pursuing complementary secondary policy objectives through public procurement in a balanced manner against the primary procurement objective (OECD, 2015[35]).

In the context of youth policy, public procurement could be leveraged to support the participation of young entrepreneurs and youth-owned businesses in procurement processes and to assess the differentiated impacts of procurement projects on different age groups and generations (see Chapter 4). This needs to build on a solid assessment to understand if procurement is the right lever to achieve these secondary policy objectives.

For example, the Ministry of Children of New Zealand has designed an innovative procurement process to create opportunities for young Māori providers to deliver a more effective community-based youth remand service (New Zealand, 2020[36]). The initiative has built on the recognition that traditional methods of procuring such services have generally disadvantaged smaller, community providers. This project has primarily targeted minorities, and within them young people. (See also new Oranga Tamariki Legislation Act 2019 as an example of how the procurement process can be designed to support social outcomes) (New Zealand, 2020[36]).

This chapter has provided an analysis of trends, bottlenecks and good practice examples in delivering on the needs of young people and addressing the challenges they face in transitioning to an autonomous life. It assessed how governments can design, co-ordinate, implement, monitor and evaluate policies and services that are responsive to young people’s needs.

A number of OECD countries have designed national youth strategies, created co-ordination mechanisms, established monitoring and evaluation frameworks and adopted regulatory, budgetary and procurement tools to facilitate youth’s transition to an autonomous life. However, inadequate financial and human capacities, limited and ad-hoc use of co-ordination, monitoring, evaluation and data collection mechanisms and governance tools undermine the achievement of youth policy objectives.

To support youth in their transition to an autonomous life, governments should consider:

  1. 1. Formulating and investing into the quality of integrated youth policies, for instance through national youth strategies, at the appropriate level(s) of government, to ensure they are evidence-based, participatory and cross-sectoral, supported by political commitment, adequate resources, and effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

  2. 2. Equipping policy makers with adequate resources and skills and setting in place effective co-ordination mechanisms to deliver youth policy and services across different ministries and levels of government in a coherent manner.

  3. 3. Addressing age-related barriers and discrimination to facilitate youth’s access to public resources and participate in public life.

  4. 4. Providing people-centric and user-friendly public services for youth, including through digital means, to facilitate their access to information and counselling in areas such as education, employment, health, and others.

  5. 5. Providing targeted policies and services for young women and men from diverse backgrounds, especially the most vulnerable youth populations (e.g. NEET youth, young migrants, minorities and indigenous communities; homeless youth and youth with disabilities).

  6. 6. Systematically gathering age-disaggregated data, and applying governance tools such as regulatory and budgetary impact assessments and public procurement to address inequalities within and across different age cohorts.


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← 1. The OECD survey was responded by Privy Council Office in October 2019. In November 2019, Canada created a new Ministry of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth. The report considers institutional arrangement in force at the time.

← 2. Respondents from non-member countries refer to the entities in charge of youth in Argentina, Bulgaria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Ukraine and Romania.

← 3. The 1998 Lisbon Declaration, the 2014 Baku Commitment to Youth Policies, the 2019 Lisboa+21 Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes, and guidelines as well as practical tools developed by the Council of Europe, the European Youth Forum.

← 4. The CoG is “the body of group of bodies that provide direct support and advice to Heads of Government and the Council of Minister, or Cabinet”. The CoG is mandated “to ensure the consistency and prudency of government decisions and to promote evidence-based, strategic and consistent policies” (OECD, 2013).

← 5. Respondents were asked to rate their priorities to deliver policies and services that are responsive to youth’s needs on a scale of 1 to 5 (i.e. 1=not at all prioritised, 2=marginally prioritised, 3=somewhat prioritised, 4=moderately prioritised, 5=fully prioritised). Prioritisation levels are calculated based on respondents indicating a score of 4 or 5.

← 6. The findings refer to the share of central government budget that is specifically dedicated to youth affairs (i.e. as opposed to other policy areas) in four ministries of in charge youth portfolio across the OECD countries for the fiscal years 2015-2019.

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