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Planning for Participation

· training,Education

The conference I am attending this week is called CATS: Children as Actors for Transforming Society. What this mouthful means in basic terms is that children and young people are vital in creating social change, not just for future generations, but for now. An ‘Actor’ isn’t just a person on a stage playing a role, but anyone who performs an action or behaviour. This means we want children to be more involved in the development of better communities. It’s all about participation!

What is Participation?

Participation: The action of taking part in something. – Involvement, engagement, contribution.

Participation is a word that comes will allsorts of tricky connotations. When you look at the synonyms given you can already see that there is a difference between contribution, taking part and being engaged. Taking part makes me think of PE lessons where I may not have been keen on playing the game but was asked to keep score as a token gesture just to take part. Sometimes participation can be used in this unhelpful way. E.g. If a board of governors at a school decide that everyone now has to wear uniform where they didn’t before, but allows the children to vote on the colour, this could be labelled ‘participation’ simply because the children contributed in some way. But realistically, the children had little choice in the overall process.

What CATS conference is all about is the ‘engagement’ side of participation. This means:

  • Ensuring that children are involved in a range of decision making – not just token gestures
  • That every activity is suitable for adults and children alike.
  • Adults learning to step back and encourage children to take leadership roles.
  • Learning about the world from children’s perspectives to create awareness of why participation doesn’t always happen.
  • Developing skills, capacities and knowledge that encourage better children’s participation now and in future.

Planning the Activities

With over 310 delegates from 40 countries attending – all different ages speaking different languages there is a lot to co-ordinate. Rooms, food, choice of workshop, arrivals, translators and a whole host of other things. But the planning that I am most interested in is planning for participation.

All aspects of CATS conference have been planned to ensure that children not only ‘sit in’ on activities but can actually take an active and engaged role. This means that anyone planning a workshop, facilitating a community group, leading a session or giving a talk has to ask themselves at every stage: what opportunities for engagement have I planned in my session. This is fantastic, and something that I find society does not do enough. You may recall in one of my previous posts on The Power of Questions that I outlined good questions need to be planned in to training to get learners thinking at a deeper level. This is exactly the same. Participation will sometimes just happen, but great and engaging participation needs to be planned for as a key objective so that it doesn’t become lost once the buzz of the activity starts.

CATS Conference schedule. Childrens participation and engagement.

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A very wise man once told me ‘The plan is what you do when all else fails’.

Making plans is great – it makes sure that you have an idea of what you would like to happen. But great facilitators know that a plan doesn’t have to be stuck with rigidly. With 310 delegates all living and learning together there are bound to be spontaneous opportunities for participation and engagement that the organisers didn’t even think of. The great thing about a conference like this is that there is room to be flexible and hand over the reigns to participants once they start taking up their ‘Actor’ role as the week goes on.

So, we have planned for participation to make sure that children are engaged. But we are also prepared to step back when children engage themselves and make their own plans as they grow in confidence.

Image Credit: CATS Conference 2015

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