Steven Pryse, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Describe your role
I am Youth Participation Development Officer for NCVYS (National Council for Voluntary Youth Services). My role involves co-ordinating ENVOY (Enthusiastic National Voice Of  Youth), which is the national youth forum for NCVYS. Another main project I’m involved with is the Young Partners Award, an annual awards program where young people and the projects they are part of get recognised by other young people for their excellence in youth participation. I also have a role developing NCVYS’ youth participation work throughout the organisation, ensuring we are a model of best practice for our members and helping the voluntary and community youth sector engage with more young people.

What makes a good participation worker?
For me it’s about being flexible yet unbending, relaxed yet determined, fun loving yet serious minded about achieving genuine change for young people.

No one young person or youth participation worker is the same, so being open minded and expecting the unexpected will stand you in good stead.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Sharing power with young people and/or not knowing where to start can be a daunting thought for some organisations. Skilled participation workers can help support this and demonstrate to organisations that getting started involving young people isn’t necessarily as difficult as they think. Getting it right once you’ve got started is all part of the fun!

Organisations can get caught up with ‘making sure they are doing participation right’ when there’s no specific right way of doing things. Fear of failure and of making mistakes is the biggest barrier. Talk to participation workers and young people, they’ll be happy to give you advice and ideas.

What are the benefits?
For organisations, young people can bring a fresh new perspective on how they work. For young people it’s a chance to put their ideas for a better world into practice. For wider society it’s an opportunity to see that young people are just as much part of the community as adults and shouldn’t be driven away through the use of mosquitoes or asbos.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Be flexible; listen to the ideas that young people come up with. It doesn’t always have to be flash or expensive. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple some of the most successful participation I’ve seen has been remarkably straightforward.

Talk to young people about their participation, don’t just presume it’s going well or there isn’t room for improvement. Finding out from them what works and what doesn’t will help them gain more confidence in their role and help bring about real change.

What is effective participation?
If people are having fun you’re definitely on the right lines! Keep talking to young people; find out from them what’s been good, what’s been less good. Take it all on board and work with the young people to make changes. Effective participation continually evolves; don’t expect instant results, real change takes time.

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