Restless Development Response to Liaison Sub-Committee on Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government


November 2023


  1. Introduction


1.1.  Restless Development is a women-led and feminist centred global non-profit, with over 35 years of experience supporting the collective power of young leaders to create a better world, from the grassroots to the high-policy level.

1.2. Restless Development brings expertise on youth-led research and advocacy and inclusive co-creation, as well as an extensive network of 4000+ youth civil society organisations as part of the Youth Collective. Our work is guided by our Youth Power Principles and Power-Shifting Checklist.

1.3. Restless Development approaches this inquiry from the position of an organisation working with partners - including Democracy Moves and the School of International Futures - to think about how to build cross-generational engagement across domestic and international policy-making in order to realise national strategy that responds to a turbulent present and uncertain future.

1.4 We are in the era of Peak Youth. Half of the world’s population is under 30 and more than a quarter are under 18 years of age,[1] while the world’s poorest countries are seeing their populations become dramatically younger. They are more connected and networked than ever before and already leading the response to some of the biggest challenges that we face; it is clear that responding to future opportunities, challenges and crises cannot be done effectively without the engagement - and involvement of - young people.

1.5. The same is true in the UK. Ever-growing crises, whether food security or geopolitical conflict, can drive the focus on short-term outcomes and reduce the capacity to consider longer-term approaches to policy- and decision-making. Tokenistic engagement with those in civil society, including young people, can be the result. By engaging young people as leaders of tomorrow - and often acting as stewards for future generations - there is a significant opportunity for those within government, as well as for Select Committees, to establish an approach to strategy that harnesses future perspectives and therefore considers what the UK can be doing to prepare for - and shape - the future.

1.6. The UK Government has previously been a world leader in its work with young people, partnering with youth around the world to ensure their voices are heard on the global stage, as well as championing youth responses to global threats, such as the community response to Ebola led by young Sierra Leoneans in 2014. However, in recent years, this strong focus on youth engagement globally has decreased; Restless Development encourages the UK Government to strengthen its partnership with young people both within the UK and globally, with the aim of better building resilient, secure and open societies.

1.7. To this end, we are responding to the question of What additional resources, parliamentary procedure, knowledge and skills are necessary to support effective Select Committee scrutiny of strategic thinking and effective strategy-making, as well as monitoring implementation of any Government action in response.


  1. Key messages


        Policy-making is at its best when it reflects and responds to people’s lived experience. While Select Committees currently conduct open consultations, Restless Development encourages them to consider how to engage citizens who are unaware of parliamentary process or feel unable to - or uncomfortable with - engaging with these processes as they currently stand.

        With the average age of MPs remaining relatively unchanged at 50, there is a need to ensure that younger demographics are engaged in strategic thinking and policy formulation and feedback as well as scrutiny of government decision-making.

        The voices and innovation of young people are crucial to democratic renewal. As Restless Development has experienced globally, the engagement of decision-makers with young people can lead to improvement in public services, innovation and creativity when it comes to resolving domestic and international policy challenges and a move towards more relevant and inclusive policy-making.


  1. Question: What additional resources, parliamentary procedure, knowledge and skills are necessary to support effective Select Committee scrutiny of strategic thinking and effective strategy-making, as well as monitoring implementation of any Government action in response?

3.1. Over June-October 2020, the School of International Futures convened a group of partner organisations, including Restless Development, to conduct a pilot programme to explore the potential for a new way of making national strategy for the UK.[2] The principles of this pilot included foresight, applied history and public participation with three premises for how to navigate beyond the short-term:

3.1.1. Linking up domestic and international policy in a Whole-of-Nation strategy, bringing together policy-makers and government officials across Whitehall as well as bringing in local engagement.[3]

3.1.2. Increasing foresight to a generation (25 years) rather than 5-10 years, in order to better explore alternative scenarios and opportunities. Seen through the lens of departmental and cross-government decision-making, this could also ensure that forecasting and scenario planning not only considers immediate challenges but also begins to consider how to realise a shared, prosperous vision for the UK.[4]

3.1.3. This leads to an opportunity to harness the creativity and energy of citizens. As the report notes, “the British people are a key part of our national resilience”.[5] Policy-making is at its best when it reflects and responds to people’s lived experience. While Select Committees already open up inquiries to wider civil society and ensure accountability and transparency in publishing evidence and conducting public evidence sessions, they may want to consider how to bring in the experiences and perspectives of citizens - particularly young citizens - who are unaware of parliamentary process or feel unable to - or uncomfortable with - engaging with these processes as they currently stand.

3.1.4. This is central to a power-shifting approach;[6] providing the space for young people to inform and shape their own futures. With the House of Commons Library reporting that in 2020, the average age of an MP “had consistently remained around 50-years-old since 1979”[7], it is crucial that Parliament - including Select Committees - recognise this and work to provide space for young people to engage, and feedback on policy issues across the board.

3.1.5. As the Walking the Walk report puts it, “our youngest generations can be—and in many places are already—the primary drivers of democratic renewal [...] True modes of political and civic participation have radically transformed in recent years as a result of youth innovation amidst a political landscape where formal civic spaces are closing and where the world’s challenges—accelerating inequality, climate crisis, and racial injustice—have become existential in scale”.[8] Working with young people to engage in strategic thinking across government is therefore crucial to our democracy; the alternative is a growing generation of young people who are “growing increasingly frustrated with governments who are unresponsive, and who fail to prioritize issues that young people find critical to their future”.[9]

3.1.6. Restless Development has extensive global experience of how to effectively operationalise this approach. For example, our UK Aid-funded consortium programme, The Development Alternative, was co-created with young people and aimed to strengthen accountability of project and livelihoods-focused programmes, build the leadership skills of those young people, and strengthen youth civil society in Uganda, Madagascar, Iraq and Lebanon. The ensuing youth-led action resulted in improvements to 58% of the challenges identified and greater recognition of the young people’s leadership in this process. As noted in the Listening to Young People report by the Listening Fund,[10] there are three clear considerations for replicating this approach, which would be of use to all Select Committees: 1. Being clear about what happens to young people’s feedback and how the feedback loop will be closed; 2. Being clear about what is and is not possible in the process - how do those with power respond to feedback they may not like? And; 3. Championing the importance of listening and feedback on the road to greater effectiveness.

  1. Case studies


4.1 Zambia: Young people’s demand for accountability leads to the construction of a maternity wing[11]

Poor health services and lack of maternity space forced women in Kabwe District of Central Province to prefer giving birth from home over visiting the nearest health centre, Nakoli Health Centre, due to lack of a maternity space.

This forced expectant mothers to walk long distances to the next hospital - Kabwe General Hospital about 10 km away. The situation led to expectant mothers giving birth while on their way to the clinic and sometimes while standing in long queues.

Young people began to demand better and improved health services at the clinic. 21-year-old Peter, a young volunteer who received training from Restless Development, began training other young people on holding decision makers accountable. Together, with other young people, they formed the Ishiwi Community Group tasked to advocate for the construction of the maternity wing and improvement of health services. The group organised numerous community dialogue meetings with the local authorities and officials from the Ministry of Health, ward development committee and the Mayor's office.


Following the continued dialogue meetings, the local authorities in Kabwe resolved to construct a maternity wing at Nakoli Health Centre. The new maternity wing has encouraged a lot of women to visit the health facility for maternal services.  It has three labour rooms, prenatal and postnatal spaces. This has led to increased demand from women around the community. The health centre is now receiving a significant number of women coming to seek family planning and maternal health services.


4.2 Youth at Heart


In 2020, Restless Development worked with 12 young co-researchers from the Sahel, Horn of Africa and MENA on a participatory research project which resulted in the development of the  “Its Our Future” report[12] and three Youth Principles’[13] to help guide solutions to problems young people were facing related to their education and work, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a guide for the essentials of meaningful youth participation. The 12 young co-researchers captured their peers’ insights on education, the future of work, skill building, and their voice in society. The research informed key conversations at the Youth at Heart Virtual Forum[14] organised by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which went on to publish Youth at Heart - Young people at the heart of Dutch development cooperation,[15] a comprehensive strategy looking at how to improve prospects for young people living in the focus regions (the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and North Africa) through the lenses of education, work and young people’s voice.


This case study is potentially very exciting for a cross-Whitehall approach to strategic decision-making and scrutiny; investing in ways to not only bring in the voices, expertise and creativity of young people into these processes but also to ensure that these processes are linked across government departments, would encourage a wider range of perspectives into strategic decision-making by government, while potentially nurturing more active engagement of young people in policy-making.



4.3 Uganda: Youth Influence in Governance 


The Youth Influence in Governance programme, recently implemented by Restless Development Uganda with the Democratic Governance Facility, was designed to strengthen the capacity of young people to actively engage in planning and budgeting processes, to effectively participate in electoral processes, and ultimately to participate actively and effectively in democratic governance processes.


Prossy, age 27, was contesting for a leadership post by the time she became a Young Advocate volunteer with the programme.

“The Youth Influence in Governance programme had content that taught young people how to get involved in voting, and what steps they needed to take. I was fortunate that at that moment, I was campaigning for a post and in my bye-elections. So I was creating awareness within my community and also reaching potential voters," says Prossy.[16]

Prossy is now a District Female Youth Councillor and a Minister for Productions, representing people from 7 sub-counties in Jinja District, Uganda.

Through volunteering with  Restless Development,  Prossy and other young people are more civic conscious and are actively taking up platforms where they can engage constructively, and participate in decision-making processes irrespective of their religion, age and gender.


[1] The Unlock Declaration, 22nd September 2021

[2] The findings from this project can be found in the report by the School of International Futures, A National Strategy for the Next Generations, Pilot Programme Report, 2020.

[3] Ibid, p.4.

[4] Ibid, p.4.

[5] Ibid, p.4.

[6] See Restless Development’s Power-Shifting Checklist

[7] House of Commons Library, House of Commons Trends: The Age of MPs, 3rd November, 2020.

[8] Democracy Moves, Walking the Walk: prioritizing youth political and civic engagement in renewing democracy, p.3.

[9] Ibid, p.3.

[10] The Listening Fund, Listening to Young People: How are youth organisations strengthening their learning and evaluation processes by involving young people? April 2023, p.13.

[11] Testimony from Restless Development Ishiwi programme in Zambia, 2023.

[12] Restless Development, It’s Our Future, 2020

[13] Youth at Heart Principles, 17th December 2020

[14] Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Virtual Youth at Heart forum: for youth, by youth, 27th November 2020.

[15] Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Youth at Heart - Young people at the heart of Dutch development cooperation, 14th May 2020

[16] Testimony from Restless Development Youth Influence in Government programme, Uganda, 2020-22.