The third working paper in our series looks at a theme fundamental to child and youth wellbeing and rights: participation. This paper explores academic literature and recent publications and considers the relevance of traditional participation models and theories at a time where young people have the ability to be heard and realise change in a way that bypasses formal organisations. It originally appeared as part of a research brief for the “Case for Space” global research and advocacy initiative.

“Youth” is everywhere right now. With the massive growth in the number of structures, policies and focus on youth, alongside street protests in cities across the world, young people’s participation and activism is in the spotlight. For example, in the same years that we had various high-level formal youth conferences [UNESCO Youth Forum (2013), World Bank Youth Summit (2013; 2014), World Youth Conference (Mexico, 2010; Colombo, 2014)], we also saw student protests in the United Kingdom against a tuition fee hike (2010), similar student protests in Chile (2011-2013), the student-led democracy movement in Hong Kong (2014), not to mention the wave of youth protests throughout the Middle East since 2010, that have transformed the region.

This paper, written by Alex Farrow (Consultancy Lead), explores academic literature and recent publications and considers the relevance of traditional participation models and theories at a time where young people have the ability to be heard and realise change in a way that bypasses formal organisations.

Read the full paper here.

The first section looks at how participation is defined, beginning with its roots as an enshrined right in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, then exploring how participation is defined through various international, regional and national youth policy frameworks. Section 2 looks at key aspects of participation – what are the various forms of participation? It examines various models of participation, and how some are used to inform policy and strategy, including Roger Hart’s “Ladder of Participation” (1992), which was developed with UNICEF. The third section looks at the relevance of participation, namely the plethora of youth participation structures that have exploded at the global level in recent years. The last section interrogates key contentious issues about how participation is conceived of today: On whose terms? To what end?

Fundamentally, the paper explores the absence of power in formal processes of participation. The wave of social uprisings and civil unrest has demonstrated young people’s willingness to confront powerful regimes and institutions ― even against the threat of police brutality, sexual abuse, and violence. Their precarious activism sits uncomfortably alongside the rhetoric of youth participation through events, structures and processes.

Written by Cristina Bacalso

Cristina Bacalso

Cristina has a wide background in policy, with experience in government and non-governmental sectors, both in Canada and internationally. She has an MA Development Studies and MA Public Policy as part of the Erasmus Mundus Masters Program. Read more about Cristina on our team page.

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