Natalie Jeal, Participation Works

Describe your role
Hi! I’m Natalie Jeal, the new Participation Works Network for England Coordinator for Participation Works and will be covering Abi Carter’s role while she is on maternity leave. I’m very new in post and aim to be supporting the PWNE from a National perspective, supporting the coordination of our regional membership along with a lot of other things too! I’m hoping to bring a fresh perspective to the network, reviewing our first year with BIG lottery funding and planning for 2008/09 to ensure Participation Works is actively responding to the needs of PWNE members both regionally and nationally. I’ve got lots of ideas to explore with the PWNE steering group so watch this space for updates.

What makes a good participation worker?
A good participation worker is someone with bags of energy; able to maintain an objective perspective and facilitate the involvement of children and young people in a creative and meaningful way for the organisation they work with. I think it’s a highly skilled role that requires perseverance to challenge attitudes, a can-do approach to tackle the challenges constructively and motivation to see things through on behalf of young people. Often it involves a lot of “unpicking” to be able to move forward, trying out new things and encouraging others to get involved in the process…. I’m looking forward to finding out more from participation workers so ask me again in a year’s time!

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
I think quite often barriers are perceived rather than real obstacles to engaging and fully involving children and young people. Sometimes there is almost a fear of opening the doors to young people and lack of preparation for the unexpected. Often organisations need to be encouraged to take a risk and once they start working alongside young people, other opportunities come to the forefront when the dialogue is meaningful. Other barriers for participants can be too much management jargon, lack of understanding about young people’s lives, interests and other commitments. I’m a big believer in good communication and that starts with us by active listening. Often organisations are limited by what they can achieve due to funding and resources and we need to be realistic about what is deliverable and meaningful and ensuring the children and young people we work with understand these limits too.

What are the benefits?
The benefits of involving children and young people can be truly transformative for organisations and for participants themselves on some fundamental level. In my experience, once the dialogue has begun, organisations are really surprised at how enthusiastic and useful participation processes can be in shaping their services properly. For young participants who are engaged properly, it can be a life changing experience. The trick is to ensure that participation is not just a one-off experience and seen as a journey of change that both sides can share together with trust and commitment.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Ensuring that children and young people are involved in planning stages from very early on – even at the embryonic idea phase often saves a lot of confusion further down the line. It’s important to find fun, engaging ways of working with children and young people to make it easier to express complex ideas in a tangible way. I think my best work is achieved when I realise that I’m learning more from the participants themselves and we are all on this journey together.

What is effective participation?
A tough question to answer in a few short words but begins with having the commitment to change organisational cultures and the right people in place to make this happen. Effective participation is about engaging fully in the process without preconceived ideas about where it will lead to and ensuring that young people are empowered with the right leadership skills to participate.

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