Jane Bostock, National Children's Bureau

Describe your role
I am a senior Participation Officer for the National Children's Bureau (NCB). I manage The Participation Works young product assessors programme and The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes young peoples advisory network. I have an overarching responsibility for participation within the NCB and I chair our own participation workers group, field requests and advise on training internally and externally.

What makes a good participation worker?
I don't think you can put a definitive list on what attributes are good and what are bad, but in my experience it would seem those people who naturally have the right disposition for it tend to be self assured, fun, empathetic, flexible and are obviously clear about the importance of young peoples voices being heard. I do think this can be learnt. My tip would be remember being a child or young person yourself, unlearn a bit of the uptightness we acquire as adults and learn to play and think outside the box. We are all different and different dispositions suit different settings, age groups and so on and you are a fool to yourself if you think everyone is going to like you. I do think anyone could do it if they tried and immerse themselves fully in it. I have seen people that say they do not work with children change overnight when put in an environment with young people and with the support of experienced participation workers.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Other people. Fear. Last week Barnardos reported that around half of the adult population do not regard young people in a positive light, dehumanising them to vermin in some quotes. So you can see it is not an easy task. I think communication and understanding between the generations has broken down completely in some areas and walks of life. I truly think that this mutual mistrust has to be addressed for society to move on and develop into a world that certainly I would be happy to be part of. It is quite a lofty idealistic notion, however I cannot see things improving for all until we adequately address the Daily Mail mentality towards young people and equally young people harbouring resentment based upon that unfair portrait. We are ruled by fear it would seem and no society will develop and thrive upon that sentiment

What are the benefits?
Simple, your product or service will work better for young people because you will have effectively held a mirror to your process involving those who it is supposed to impact upon. Young people feel empowered, skilled and have ownership on that process. You would not start selling cakes if people have not tasted them at first. Why should this be different?

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Don't make promises you cannot keep. Young people can spot phoneys a mile off. Have fun and make it enjoyable and interesting. I would recommend where possible to make sure you have adequate resources and if something is not your strong point, use your colleagues or invite external support to assist and run a session. Offer young people something in return for their work. This could be monetary like vouchers or a skills investment in offering training. Invest time, invest energy and invest Money. Put it at the top of your list when your next bid comes in, this work is the foundation for all your and their future successes.

What is effective participation?
It's when you get 14 young people to a ratio of two in a rectangle room and ask five framed questions using human bingo, collage work and role play... I honestly don't know. It is a two way street however and if those you are trying to influence are fearful and not interested then the participation is of no value and is just a token action to tick a box. It is also about facing those in power head on and challenging them to work with young people and demonstrate the value in it. I would be wary of being told there is a clear method or line to take. I am still looking and trying new things.

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