Dan Firth, Islington Council

Describe your role
I am the project manager for the Listen Up Project – Islington’s participation project. The project aims to:

  • Bring issues affecting the life chances of young people to
    the attention of local authorities and other services (like
    the police) and help create services that are more
    responsive to the needs of young people
  • Develop active citizenship and leadership skills among
    young people which are needed to create an active and responsive democracy
  • Empower young people to play a part in the development of future policies and strategies of the borough

What makes a good participation worker?
I don’t believe there is any one formula, however a good participation worker should be both a facilitator and an advocate for young people and be aware of the diverse range of issues that affect them. They should be sensitive and also be able to work with young people in creative ways. Importantly, I believe, they should have a broad view of the political and social context in which young people live and how policies affect them.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
The biggest barrier, I believe, is that despite young people’s participation being hot on the political agenda, there are still many institutional barriers to young people really affecting change at a policy level. There needs to be less emphasis on tokenistic consultation and more on meaningful participation, which is more likely to build the active citizenship skills of young people and more likely to invigorate democracy. This is particularly important at a time when young people’s disengagement from political processes (but not political and social issues) and institutions is at an all time high.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?

  • Make sure that young people have a greater say on issues that are important to them
  • Empower young people to represent themselves and voice their views
  • Build young people’s active citizenship skills and invigorate democracy
  • Work to transform institutional culture to meaningful participation at all levels
  • Increase the involvement of under-represented groups

What is effective participation?
At the heart of effective children and young people’s participation is a change in organisational culture. Participation should empower children and young people to be partners in decision-making; give them equal access to the agenda and enable them to initiate dialogue on issues identified by them. At the heart of good participation work is the belief that all members of the community should be able to be involved in decision-making. Effective participation should ensure that inclusion and equality are running throughout and that children and young people; particularly those that are disadvantaged are empowered to have a voice and the skills to affect change.

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