How to mobilise young people: Recommendations for NGOs and civic organisations

The article draws on the key findings of a study conducted in the UK of youth civic attitudes and internet user experience, and considers the challenges facing civic institutions and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) aiming to mobilise young citizens.

Main factors affecting current mode of youth civic engagement (Based on young participants’ own narratives):

  1. low levels of efficacy (i.e. belief that one’s actions have value and can make a difference + belief in the responsiveness of the system to one’s actions)
  2. scepticism about the relevance of many public affairs to people’s everyday life. (an individual’s effort to invest time, money, energy, attention may not necessarily “pay off” by making real, visible difference to one’s everyday life or community.)

Youth’s motivation to participate

It was found that young people are willing to engage with issues that are close to their lifeworld as long as they are provided with accessible and effective tools of participation.

Although participants in the study are found to be individualistic, Collective engagement is negatively perceived by young people due to their lack of faith in its effectiveness, rather than a feeling that people should not engage collectively.

Etkin and Ho (2007: 623) noted, it is “not a rational decision for most individuals to take actions to reduce risk from climate change in the absence of collective action, yet collective action is extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

Young people also demand to understand explicitly an issue’s relevance to their life or community before they are willing to commit action.

Youth’s pattern of Internet use

The paper then considers young people’s evaluations of four NGO websites related to environmental issues and global poverty (including Fairtrade and Friends of the Earth). It is argued that young people’s use of the internet is mostly functional and habitual, as opposed to creative or experimental.

Gerodimos noted that young people would not normally look for, or access the websites (of NGOs promoting causes oriented towards ordinary consumers, chosen in this study) if they had not previously seen an advertisement or feature on television or other ‘old’ media.

Mass media coverage and organisational reputation become even more important in attracting the (segmented) audience’s attention.

The article also discusses the use of emotions such as fear and hope to stimulate young people’s participation may be perceived as pushy, lead to denial and inaction, amongst others, and may backfire on the message.

Gerodimos’ Recommendation

(Criteria for The Ideal Online Mobilisation Campaign base on above findings)

1. Relevant to people’s everyday life

2. Combines Macro-Social Change with Micro-Social Benefits

3. Creates an Ongoing Narrative

4. Reinforces a Consistent Message

5. Sets Clear and Feasible Objectives

6. Puts Emphasis on Results

7. Provides Citizens with the Tools to Make a Difference

8. Maximises the Audience

9. Invests in Accessible and Attractive Design

10. Depends on the Mass Media

Consider this..

There are already so many environmental messages around us yet the efforts to save the environment are still insufficient. What will motivate you to play your part? Do you agree with Gerodimos on the 10 recommendations proposed? Which environmental campaign have you encountered, or even participated in, where you think they have been executed successfully and incorporated the above recommendations?


Gerodimos, R. (2008). How to mobilise young people: Recommendations for NGOs and civic organisations. 58th Political Studies Association Annual Conference. University of Swansea: Political Studies Association.


1 comment so far

  1. snowkinz on

    I feel that everyone is affected differently. for me, i am motivated to play my part by my pre-instilled morals on littering etc and also if my actions affect me directly such as switching off lights -> save electricity -> lesser on bills.
    i agree with the 10 recommendations but it is hard to acheive all 10. not everyone is affected that easily.
    i dont really go to environmental campaigns, i just do what i feel is right. so…… haha the organizations have to think of this as not everyone will have time to willingly go to campaigns.

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