Kate Ingham - Participation and Leadership Co-ordinator, British Red Cross

What makes a good participation worker?
It is a complex job which needs you to show great patience and creativity. You need to always be optimistic and positive and believe that change can and will come and an impact can be had. This conviction will inspire other people. It is not about having tick boxes, it is about an attitude and a way of working and you need to find a collaborative means for getting people to understand your passion for why this is important- for young people, for them and for their work- and then work together to see how it can be achieved in your organisation.

What are the barriers to involving Children and Young people?
There can be challenges around understanding. Why are we doing this? Are there not more immediate priorities? When an organisation is very multilayered it is important to train and support the right staff in the right places. There can be an attitude that states that young people cannot have the intellectual capacity for some involvement. There can also be a perception that it will be time consuming and all involving and cumbersome experience. The focus of people’s energy in an organisation may not be young people and this can be a further challenge. Sometimes there is a reluctance that giving young people a voice will raise contentious points. If these are the points they want to raise, and they are our volunteers, then we should be enabling and encouraging this. Lastly, where involving people in decisions on things that affect them isn’t common place, starting with young people can seem more daunting. For me, one of the biggest barriers is around the actions that come from involving young people. Listening is not enough. There has to be actions and accountability.

What are the benefits?
The benefits of involving children and young people are that you are able to be more receptive and reflective as an organisation of what young people actually want and need. Why guess what people want? Why guess what works? Why assume? It ensures that you stay current too- getting feedback and being prepared to adjust and scrap ideas is super valuable and will build interest and support from young people. They will recognise that you value them and their ideas and are prepared to listen. Similarly, you are encouraging young people to grow up knowing that they do have a voice, can have a say and will have an impact on the world around them. If they can experience this influence- and understand the differing scales and extents of involvement they can have in a decision, then they will be more inclined to become active citizens in later life. Plus it offers great personal development opportunities for them.

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

Think big but start small. Set yourself targets- what do you want to see happen? What is realistic within the culture of the organisation you are a part of? What can you achieve immediately and what will be the slow burns? Build on internal talent, knowledge and expertise. Recognise that building aspirations, interests and skills within the young people to participate is only half of the challenge- there needs to be the skills and interest to manage their involvement too. Get everyone thinking and talking about participation- what it is to them and their work. Get the people at the top to understand and hopefully champion fostering a new participatory culture of working. Find allies and means to collaborate. Understand the barriers that the organisation and individuals within it perceive or experience to involving young people. Explain the need to be flexible- what works in one area of the organisation might not work elsewhere. Appreciate that it is a journey- for everyone. Different speeds will be taken by different people. Don’t preach and be able to explain ‘why’. Facilitate opportunities to demonstrate the merits and worth of good participation. Facilitate discussion. Lead by example. Accept there will be hurdles and find gracious alternatives and solutions. Choose your battles and understand it isn’t a tick box. Effective participation cannot and will not happen instantly. Build effective participation as an idea, a value and a norm for good practice. And remain the beacon of optimism and potential!

What is effective participation?

Effective participation is the meaningful involvement of children and young people in all aspects of an area of work. From identifying the need, to creating, delivering and evaluating the solution. Effective participation means that staff and volunteers working with young people feel equipped to involve young people in a way that is beneficial to process and beneficial to the young people. It is about recognising someone’s voice and contribution as an individual.


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