How to Lobby for Clear Covid-19 Safety Regulations in the Lead up to Summer Camps? Best practices from the Scouts and Guides of Austria
In early March, right at the start of the lockdown due to COVID-19, all non-formal educational activities such as regular meetings and camps were immediately suspended, alongside school closures. Overnight, Youth Organizations in Austria including the Scouts and Guides, did an excellent job in adapting to digital youth work to support young people during extraordinary times.
Nevertheless, when our government slowly started the process of reopening again with guidelines and measures affecting different areas of public life, youth work was not included. That urged us to start advocating for clear regulations regarding the relaunch of youth activities.
My name is Isabella Steger, and I am representing the Austrian Scouts and Guides Organisation in the National Youth Council (NYC), where I am president elect. This gave me the opportunity to contribute to the shaping of a lobbying strategy throughout the uncertain times faced by Scouts and the rest of the youth sector.
Goal setting, alliances building and media outreach:
For us, as the NYC, our lobbying goal was crystal clear: Summer camps needed clear regulations.
We decided to go public with our demand and mobilised other organisations to build an alliance. Hence, we called upon all member organizations to follow our lead. We also started targeting the government with clear key messages to urge policymakers to publish clear and comprehensive regulations for summer camps.
Many youth organizations followed the call and a flood of press releases and media outreach, caught the media attention to cover our story. It was on that same day, that the biggest public news service broadcast our story on the primetime news. This was the moment the ball started rolling into the right direction.
In the meantime, a lot of Scouts and youth leaders from various organizations shared the call for clear regulations on social media. At that point, it was clear to us that the government had to react, as the story was all over the news and social media.
In the meantime, the biggest youth organizations, including the Scouts and Guides of Austria, whose summer camps started to become a pressing matter, joined forces and produced a video. In this video, they criticized the government for putting youth organizations “on hold” and not publishing clear regulations. In a matter of hours, the video went viral on social media with over 24.000 views. Young Scouts also started making individual videos urging the government to release clear regulations. By now, it was not only the leaders who wanted answers, the Scouts themselves finally were speaking up and pushing for clear instructions.
When our health minister announced that he would make a press conference for children, we as the National Scout Organization sent in the video of the young Scouts and Guides asking for answers. It was screened during the press conference and our health minister promised a solution for summer camps to follow soon.
Direct lobbying tactics and a diligent quest for answers:
As the NYC we had contact with the youth ministry about the importance of summer camps during this whole process. We offered our support to help shape the needed regulation for summer camps, but all our suggestions were declined. We tried to build up more public pressure, as well as lobby for clear regulations via direct contacts in the ministry. This lobbying strategy showed to be fruitful when summer camps were included in a set of new regulations regarding events in the end of May. Both the youth and the health ministers publicly supported summer camps and highlighted the importance of non-formal education in a press release. For us this was a promising outlook to ensure summer camps despite challenging times.
Nevertheless, this regulation led to more questions than answers. The biggest uncertainty in this regulation was, if facemasks and social distancing were compulsory in summer camps. As the NYC we collected all pending questions from our member organizations and shared them with the ministry.
Besides looking for answers, we also demanded a summer camp guide on how to meet these regulations. Scouts and Guides who had contact with different political parties, followed our call to lobby for one thing: A meeting for the National Youth Council with the ministry.
By pulling strings with young spokespersons of the political parties represented in the ministry, we as NYC together with six of the largest youth organizations managed to finally get a meeting with the health ministry. In that meeting we highlighted the importance of youth work and summer camps, as well as explained why summer camps were hard to conduct under the current regulations. The minister of health promised us to keep our problems in mind when negotiating the regulations for the next phase of loosening up the lockdown rules.
The light at the end of the tunnel- the tunnel could be very long…
Two days later the ministry of youth published a guideline for summer camps. Unfortunately, this guideline was far from the reality of youth work. After offering our expertise multiple times to join forces and work together for clear instructions, we still had no feasible results. Many youth leaders, including Scouts and Guides from all over the country, went on social media to complain about the guidelines.
As the NYC, we released a press statement about the guideline and its missing practical approach. I personally shared the social media post from the NYC on various Facebook Groups of Scouts and Guides in Austria, in order to multiple the message with the approach of “sharing is caring”. This post went viral and reached a great audience. Media coverage picked up our complaints, and we made headlines all over the country again.
Tenacity pays off, never give up!
Due to this public pressure, the youth ministry finally included us into the negotiations of the new regulations. We sent a clear proposal for the necessary considerations before releasing new regulations regarding summer camps. Finally, they adopted our proposal.
The new regulation came into force on the 15th of June, followed by supportive guidelines. That time around, the ministry first asked for feedback from the youth representatives before publishing them.
For thousands of Scouts and Guides, as well as other youth organisation in Austria this finally meant clarity and no more uncertainty for planning a summer camp. Austria can now have summer camps without any restrictions in bubbles up to 20 people plus leaders. Youth Organizations must have a clear COVID-19 prevention plan, which includes measures about hygiene, prior training of youth leaders and what to do in case any participant of the summer camp showed COVID-19 symptoms.
This all was possible due to the following lobbying tactics:
Have a clear message in mind:
“Summer camps are important for the psychosocial health of children. We need clear regulations, which are practical!”
The NYC together with six of the biggest youth organizations joined forces. Together we are stronger!
Make use of direct contacts:
Use your contacts with decision-makers and ask people who have relations to political decision makers to lobby for you.
Build up public pressure:
While also lobbying in personal conversations with people working in the ministries and members of the parliament.
Ensure an active role in your national youth council:
Playing an active role in the decision-making body of the National Youth Council allowed us, as the Scouts and Guides of Austria, to shape the lobbying strategy of the NYC to support our youth leaders and members.
This article has been written by Isabella Steger, a Scout and the president of the Austrian National Youth Council.
It has been edited by Scouting in Europe
Photo credit: Gregor Hiebl