Mark Benson, Action for Children

Describe your role
As National Participation Development Manager I oversee the strategic development of children and young people’s participation across almost 500 Action for Children (formerly NCH) projects throughout the UK.

What makes a good participation worker?
Time and again children and young people will say that the key element of good participation, or a good participation worker, is simply ‘fun’. As we know, participation is an  umbrella term and it is imperative that children and young people are given opportunities and are empowered to influence the systems that surround them. However, the impact of this process will always be enhanced by successfully engaging them in the first place…so let’s hear it for FUN!

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
There is a dichotomy around the idea that high quality participation requires a high budget (you get what you pay for), and the notion that, at its simplest, participation is about listening to children and young people and positive change happening as a result. In reality, it is all and both of these, but, as adults hold the power, it is often also about the will to change.

What are the benefits?
It is a measure of progress (in some areas!) that it is unnecessary for me to simply list all of the acknowledged benefits of participation to children and young people, organisations, society, etc. Action for Children is continually developing its participation agenda; our growing range of creative arts projects is in direct response to how children and young people say they want to be listened to. Although this is just one way to engage children and young people, the important principle is the recognition that services are most likely to meet young people’s needs when we know what those needs are, and effective participation, which engages children and young people, is the key to this.

Tips for effective participation?
Effective participation is grounded in the culture and values of an organisation, is driven by children and young people’s wants and needs, and is reinforced through a strong policy and procedural backdrop. Creating the right structural framework for participation ensures that it is embedded in all you do and that you continue to develop your approach and identify where opportunities can be created and decision making shared.

What is effective participation?
For me, effective participation is experienced as meaningful by all those involved. It is also often about ‘next steps’ and the development of the process, or the learning, in the child, adult, group, or organisation. Participation is a journey…and you need to feel like you are travelling!

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