In brief

French young people under the age of 25 often fall into a poverty trap: they are no longer supported financially by their families, but they are unable to claim social benefits. The Fonds d’expérimentation pour la jeunesse (FEJ) was set up to act as a policy lab. It rigorously tests and evaluates the many possible small-scale solutions to address this wider challenge.

The challenge

In France in the early 2000s, there were many young people under the age of 25 who lived in poverty and were not supported by their family. There was an obvious reason for this: social in-work benefits like the Revenu de solidarité active (RSA) could only be claimed from the age of 25. There were many youths between the ages of 16 and 25 who fell through the gap. There was a high rate of unemployment among this age group (24%). [1]

The initiative

One approach to addressing this problem was the Experimental Fund for Youth (FEJ – Fonds d’expérimentation pour la jeunesse), which was set up in 2009 within the French Youth Ministry. The FEJ is “a public policy laboratory financing innovative interventions for young people, implemented at a small scale and rigorously evaluated”. [2]

It seeks to improve the social and career prospects of under-25s by understanding and measuring the impact on them of public policy interventions. Tranches of funding are made available through open calls for proposals, which can be made by NGOs, schools, universities, local authorities or other public institutions. Each call is focused on a specific theme, “relating to school and university dropouts, employment, housing, health and mobility”.

The FEJ is advised by the National Science Council, which includes academic researchers, on the proposals it receives. After the Council reviews the proposals, they are considered by the FEJ’s Management Council, which includes representatives from government, and external financial contributors and selects the successful projects. The FEJ then oversees the delivery of the experiments and their evaluations, and publishes the results.

The public impact

The public impact can be assessed in terms of the scale of activity that the FEJ has promoted and, eventually, in a necessarily approximate way, in the improvements made to the life chances of under-25s.

At present, the focus is on the projects themselves. The FEJ has:

  • Funded 716 projects between 2009 and 2014, involving around 620,000 young people and 150,000 adults. [3]
  • “Demonstrated the value of applying rigorous methodologies, such as randomised controlled trials (RCTs), to assessing policy impact...
  • “Between 2009 and 2013 ... ran 16 calls for proposals and received more than 1,700 applications...

“Current evaluations include studying the impacts of providing young people with a driving licence at reduced cost to improve their job opportunities and exploring whether volunteering increases [their] chances of finding a job.”

However, the unemployment rate for under-25s in France in March 2016 showed no change from 2009 and stood at 24%.

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What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Stakeholder Engagement Good

The idea of the FEJ was introduced by Martin Hirsch, the High Commissioner for Youth in the government of the prime minister, François Fillon, and the president, Nicolas Sarkozy. The other stakeholders included public administrators, economists, experts, researchers, NGOs and the French under-25s themselves.

It was innovative in that it was based on the desire to experiment and to develop new evaluation techniques. “In the field of development economics, researchers like Esther Duflo advocated the use of [RCTs]. This was encouraged through the establishment of a network of researchers within the J-Pal association.” [4] The economists involved in the FEJ wished to promote the use of these evaluation methods in the field of French public policy.

Political Commitment Fair

Considering the fact that the plan has been in force since 2009, it is evident that the programme has received continued support from successive governments. The FEJ was initiated under Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency and has been continued under that of François Hollande.

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The objective of "Fonds d'expérimentation pour la jeunesse" (FEJ) is to test policies targeted towards young people (< 25) and to promote implementation of the most successful initiatives. [5]

  • Scope is wide, tackling notably: discriminations, preventing violence against women, employment & training, early-school leaving (incl. university), international mobility, housing, driving license, health.

Evidence Good

The FEJ was conceived as a result of a study conducted by the office of the High Commissioner for Youth in France, Martin Hirsch. “The office of the High Commissioner for Youth published a report titled ‘Green Paper on Youth Policy’ suggesting remedies to the increasing levels of poverty among unemployed youth. The report considered two solutions: either a monthly allowance available to certain young people in difficulty, or a grant, paid at the age of 18, for which the young person would then be responsible... Thus the FEJ came into being based on the idea of establishing a structure for implementing experiments addressing issues identified by the Green Paper.” [6]

Additionally, in an ongoing process to measure the effectiveness of the different interventions that  it supports, FEJ carries out Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT).

Action

Management Strong

The involvement of officials from relevant government ministries, such as the Ministry for Youth, experts from various scientific fields via the National Science Council, and economists and other academic experts has strengthened the FEJ’s management. Its finances are overseen by a management council composed of various ministers and private funders.

Measurement Fair

FEJ can be  measure and track how many projects they test and fund. However, the impact of those projects is harder to track. Other metrics could be used such as employment rate and university dropout rate, however changes could be due to many reasons and not solely the success of the FEJ, making this difficult to measure.

Alignment Fair

The results from the FEJ’s many experimental projects may not lead to the desired policy intervention or indeed any policy. “But more fundamentally ... the results do not arrive on the desk of a decision-maker who has the means to take a promising result and spend more on its development. And they are even less likely to make it to the desks of leaders who are willing to recognise that the range of public actions they are promoting is not very effective... In the diversified world of public policy evaluation, one specificity of RCTs is that they highlight that certain actions have no effect. But the clearness of the results does not prevent them from getting caught up in power relations that defeat them most of the time.” [7]