Jake Manning, The National Youth Agency

Describe your role
I’m a Development Officer for Participation Works based at The National Youth Agency. My primary role is to offer training and support to service providers and, where possible, service users across England around participation, particularly in terms of using Hear by Right to build participation into organisational practices and processes.

What makes a good participation worker?
A good participation worker needs to be well versed in theory and practice. Being knowledgeable about the rights basis of participation, the legislative drivers and questions of power involved in shared decision making adds a tremendous rigour to the role, and a safeguard against tokenism. But there also needs to be practical understanding; the challenge of being continually creative in your approach to engage with the broadest range of service users, how you measure and feed back on what happens as a result of a piece of participation work, and the fine line between facilitating and leading a session for example. A good participation worker also needs to be prepared to be pushy. Ensuring children and young people’s participation is treated meaningfully can be very difficult, and sometimes means we have to say no to people it is not easy to say no to.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Travelling around the country on the Participation Works Hear by Right tour 2007-2010 I’ve come across many very real barriers to participation that service providers and service users feel. I sometimes run an exercise where everyone in the room identifies a barrier they feel to participation, and then their colleagues have to address it, on the spot, off the top of their head. I haven’t come across one yet for which a solution could not be found. We all feel these barriers, but we can all address them, given the opportunity. One of the most consistent service provider barriers is about people not feeling comfortable with exactly what participation is, why it’s important and how it will affect their job. The National Youth Agency’s what why how approach to participation training was designed to address these concerns. Very rarely, in my experience, are people actually resistant to participation when they fully understand what it is (and usually they are already doing it).

What are the benefits?
The beauty of participation, and the reason I love doing my job, is the huge number of benefits to both service users and service providers it brings. It really is one of those rare win-win situations. In the name of brevity, I’ll give you my top benefit for each of the three key benefactors: children and young people, services and communities.

  • Better outcomes for children and young people. Children and young people get a better deal!
  • Sustainability for services. Services make better decisions about what is needed, deliver it to a higher standard, with less waste (and in evidencing participation, can often apply for more pots of money)
  • More cohesive community. Distances between children and young people and the rest of society are reduced as children and young people are recognised as citizens now

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
My top tips for effective participation include:

  • Being clear about the potential for real change – there’s no point sharing a decision that has already been made
  • Involving children and young people as early as possible – don’t scratch your head about which approach would be most engaging, ask them what would work best for them
  • Being guided by the principle; the right of children and young people to have a say in decisions that affect their lives. Try not to let politics and institutionalised practice obscure the simple truth of participation

What is effective participation?
Effective participation is participation that leads to positive change.

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