Chris Thompson, National Children's Bureau

Describe your role
I currently work as a Development Officer in National Children's Bureau's Policy Unit. I'm working on several projects including managing the DCSF Children and Youth Board and undertaking a Participation Works project.

The work I am doing for Participation Works will seek to influence and change the ways Formal Meetings take place by working closely with administrative staff and those clerking such meetings. The project will equip these staff with the skills and understanding to make formal meetings in which children and young people are present a forum where the children and young people feel able to participate fully. By improving the processes of formal meetings we hope that adult decision makers will feel that the participation of children and young people has contributed to (rather than detracted from) getting the business done.

What makes a good participation worker?
You don't have to have the word "participation" in your job title to be participative. My background is social work, and I have seen really creative participative work done by social workers with little or no resources in challenging and stressful circumstances. For me, it's about giving every child the opportunity to tell it how it is from their perspective, and to have that opinion listened to and acted on. That said, a good worker is always honest and up front about any limitations, and doesn't set children up with unrealistic expectations.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
I think it's quite tempting for people to hide behind certain restrictive systems and processes, whereas in reality all it takes is for people to make a conscious decision to make participation central to their way of working, and not to tag it on. Once people make that choice and commit to it, the barriers tend to fall away.

I also think some adults feel like they don't have the skills to talk to children. It's important that we don't talk about participation as some kind of secret skill that only certain experts can do. Whilst participation workers may have particular expertise in enabling and promoting participation, I think we need reinforce that participation is in fact something that anybody can do, every day of their life.

What are the benefits?
There are millions! You will actually be designing services with the people for whom they are intended; it creates a sense of pride and ownership in a service / place etc; it makes good business sense; it also has an important therapeutic benefit too.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Allow lots and lots of time. Don't give up on children and young people just because they might not come once - adults sometimes don't turn up too! Also, if children and young people aren't turning up, it may mean you need to reconsider the way you are engaging with your audience. It's OK to try different things, and you won't get it right every time.  Finally, don't do it as an "add on". Involve children and young people from the drawing board - at the most initial planning stages - it will pay dividends in the long run.

What is effective participation?
It's a process not an event.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB