Melody Hossaini, The National Youth Agency

Describe your role
As Project Officer within the participation team at The National Youth Agency (The NYA), ultimately my role is to deliver training and workshops based on our Triangle which consists of; Hear by Right, Act by Right and What’s Changed. Other than that I also manage a variety of projects including Climate Change. After completing training with Al Gore in 2006, I have taken on some international roles. In August 2008 I spent 2 weeks in Indonesia delivering Project Management and Leadership Training to young people from all the countries across East Asia Pacific so that they are better able to develop their Climate Change projects. I am also one of the founder members of UK Youth Parliament and currently a Trustee and chair of the Strategy and Communication Sub Group.

What makes a good participation worker?
My view is that a good participation worker is somebody who has come into their line of work fully committed to the cause and keeps the best interest of young people at the heart of what they do. It is also extremely vital to have a good understanding of the issues to consider when working with young people, and alongside that they should involve young people in shaping what they do as far as is possible.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Naturally there are some barriers, however I feel that we can choose to eliminate some of those if we both listened and worked with young people according to what works for them.

It is also important to note that there are different barriers depending on from whose perspective you are looking. There are barriers for young people to participate, things such as not having the necessary support or information to engage or a feeling that even if they did, it would make no difference.

On the ground, participation workers may sometimes feel as if their hands are tied. This may be due to targets that they are set to achieve, government plans and policies leading the agenda rather than young people doing so and linked to this funding issues.

What are the benefits?
This question should not even require an answer! It should be a given- we never ask why it is beneficial to involve other groups in society - so why do we always hear that question being posed in relation to young people? Essentially, young people have a right to be heard on matters that affect them and for that to be given due weight. The benefits are not just for young people but also for the services and organisations who can design, deliver and evaluate their services and policies based on actual rather than presumed needs - this will also save money. Needless to say, young people can offer relevant views drawn from their present situations and experiences.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
I would go back to The NYA’s triangle - we must build in the participation of children and young people using tools such as Hear by Right, which helps to map where we are and then plan how to get to where we want to be.

Young people could be presented with all the opportunities in the world to participate, but if they do not have the necessary skills and support to be able to make the most if it then it is futile. Act by Right fills this gap and also offers accreditation as awarded by Asdan.

What is effective participation?
Effective participation is when young people themselves tell us that it has been successful which brings me to the third angle of our triangle! What’s actually changed in the lives of children and young people and if they are supposed to be the beneficiaries then we must measure the success of what we have done against what they tell us.

Ultimately, I also believe that effective participation is not just about taking part- but about achieving positive change in the lives of children and young people- and for them to tell us that the change has improved their lives in some way, usually linked to the 5 Every Child Matters outcomes.

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