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Changemakers: Active Political Citizens

Lady with long, dark hair, standing in front of a Changemaker poster talking to a group of people

Current political, socio-economic and cultural tensions illustrate that society is challenged in a number of ways in the UK and more widely – financial stability, rule of law, external security, trust in politicians and media etc. are all current issues society is faced with. Those who are currently young adults will become citizens in a society influenced by these tensions meaning it is important to create learning opportunities inside and outside of formal education to support young adults to think and act in critical ways when confronted with injustice, inequality, and undemocratic phenomena and processes; and to understand how to make political and social change. Enabling them to be active political citizens.

Research has suggested that exposure to citizenship or ‘civic’ education at school has an impact on engaged citizenship. However, although citizenship has been a required part of secondary education in the UK since 2002, there are blockers in the current UK school system such as uneven implementation of citizenship education. As a result, supplementary/complimentary learning environments to formal education – including ones focused on young adults/post-compulsory education – may be a useful way of plugging the gap; something particularly important in the face of the societal challenges noted above.

The Changemakers Project

‘Changemakers’ is an Open Societal Challenges project at The Open University with a vision to improve the understanding of young people about UK political institutions and how to make political and social change as an active citizen. The project will look at how to foster active citizenship and political understanding among young adults in the UK (16-24) through the development and evaluation of educational resource(s). The project will initially focus on Wales, working with young Welsh citizens and the OU in Wales.

The Open University developed an Open Learn course, ‘An introduction to making political and social change’, that launched in November 2022. It is endorsed and branded by all four UK political administrations: UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Parliament, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has also been written in conjunction with the OU nations offices, OU in Scotland, OU in Wales, and OU in Ireland.

Working with young adults in Wales, Changemakers will first evaluate the content, design, and impact of the Open Learn course, linking to a wider analysis of existing citizenship policies, curriculum, and resources etc. This will lead to the investigation, design, development and evaluation of other potential educational resource(s), aimed at young adults/post-compulsory education in particular.

Once completed the project will be able to provide best practice recommendations for policy makers, based on key insights identified through the above research, focused on the state of UK formal and informal active citizenship education, using Wales as a case study.

Hear what Dr Donna Smith, project lead has to say about the project:

My name’s Dr Donna Smith and I'm a Senior lecturer in Politics in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Global Studies, and I'm the Principal Investigator for the Changemakers project.

The Changemakers Project explores improving young adults’ understanding of making political and social change, using Wales as a case study.

The project aims to develop educational resources to improve understanding, engendering active citizenship.

Change Makers will generate robust educational resources that enable young people aged 16 to 24 to become active citizens by improving their understanding of how to make political and social change in the UK.

Their active citizenship is the idea that someone can be an active political citizen so they can actively try and make change or indeed prevent it.

Basically, they can be a change maker Which is the name of our Open Societal Challenges project.

This will be achieved through the development of educational resources, post-secondary education, building on an Open Learn course called an Introduction to Making Political and Social Change that we've already created.

And the project will initially focus on Wales working with young Welsh citizens and OU Wales, but we hope be applied across the whole of the UK.

The Open Learn course we designed previously gives essential background information to get started.

Examples of inspiring Changemakers advice on how to have an impact both within and outside of traditional UK parliamentary politics and the qualities needed to succeed.

And this course was contributed to and endorsed by the UK Parliament, Welsh Parliament, Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

When it comes to the future educational resources we hope to develop as part of Open Societal Challenges.

We don't yet know what the young people we work with will suggest, which is actually quite exciting.

It could be a website, an online course, something hard copy, a video, who knows?

But we really look forward to getting the input of the young people.

Research findings will also be used to provide a package of good practice recommendations for policymakers around the state of active citizenship provision for young adults, and the next steps needed for building a future of commitment to democracy and involvement in politics.