Alieda Blandford, Dominique Taylor, Michael Smit
Dalhousie University, Canada
Sunday, November 8, 3:30pm
Despite the decline in youth participation in traditional politics over time, engagement in alternative forms of civic engagement is increasing. Existing research focuses on disenfranchised youth; in this paper, we describe an initial exploration of the role of information in initial and ongoing civic engagement. In this pilot study, we conducted a focus group with six teenagers (15-17 years old) recognized by their teachers and peers for being highly engaged in their schools and/or communities, in order to understand the self-described motivations, influences, and information behaviors of an important demographic which has not been widely studied in existing literature: youth who are highly engaged, but not yet eligible to vote in democratic elections. The participants were from six different provinces in Canada, and included a mix of rural, suburban, and urban youth. Participant responses suggested that their information environment, including the availability of information about civic affairs and opportunities to become directly involved, played a role in their socialization as engaged citizens. Moreover, they indicated that the effect of their information environment on their own civic engagement was cumulative over time: the more an issue appeared, the more likely they were to engage with it. Based on this focus group discussion, we suggest a set of interpretations that describe the role of information environments, the cumulative impact of civic information, and the levels of information consumption used by youth. While these theories will require additional data to confirm or reject, we expect that our observations will help inform efforts to engage youth in civic society.