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Children's Participation in Community Settings

A Research Symposium at the University of Oslo 26-28 June, 2000. Childwatch International in Collaboration with the MOST Programme of UNESCO. The symposium brought together Advisory Board members of Childwatch International, members of the Growing Up in Cities project of the MOST Programme of UNESCO , and other experts to review and plan research on children's participation in different settings of community life.

In addition to a commitment to children's rights, including the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives, Childwatch International and the MOST Programme share commitments to multidisciplinary research, comparative international research, and the application of research to policies to better children's lives. Within this framework, the symposium was intended to summarise what is known and what needs to be known about the following questions:

1.In what ways do children participate in various settings?

2.What are children's beliefs and attitudes about their participation? What are the conditions under which they believe that they are being treated as partners?

3.What happens when children participate? What are the outcomes for the children themselves and the settings of which they are a part?

Summary Report

Symposium Goals and Programme

Symposium participants made a commitment in advance to prepare a brief concept paper (8- 10 pages) on a topic related to these questions and/or create a poster about a program or events related to child participation in their country. On the opening day, representatives of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs, the University of Oslo and the Norwegian child research community joined symposium members for a poster exhibit on "Children's Participation in Community and National Developments around the World". During paper sessions, presenters were asked to summarise key points in their papers in 10 minutes, and a group discussion followed. On the final day of the meeting, small groups prepared reports summarising the contributions of the meeting and offering suggestions for future work.

Symposium Outcomes 

The symposium included some of the leading authors and experts on the subject of children's participation from around the world. See list of participants >>
One of the goals of this gathering was to determine how much consensus existed among them about the indicators of participation that authentically reflect the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to compare the meaning of participation in different community settings. There was also an interest in discovering whether agreement existed about the most important research questions that need to be pursued. See programme >>

Drawing together the papers and discussions, the symposium organisers are preparing a variety of publications.

In addition, Nadia Auriat of the MOST Programme of UNESCO organised a review of the draft Poverty Reduction Strategy Sourcebook of the World Bank and submitted a response on behalf of the group.

A bibliography of selected publications on children's participation drawn from the bibliographies of the various concept papers was assembled. See bibliography >>

Conclusions from the Discussions
There were several points of agreement reached during the meetings:

1) the importance of everyday life as a setting for children's participation
2) the importance of working on children's participation in settings where children are already engaged
3) children's participation needs to be understood within a social and cultural context
4) attention needs to be paid to creating environments in which children are invited to participate and feel comfortable participating; therefore adult attitudes and the role of adults as mentors are critical
5) stages of competence rather than chronological age are preferable for considerations of participation preparation; and competence needs to be evaluated in the context of the meaningfulness of the participation process for the child
6) There are basic characteristics of good participation that can be specified and observed
7) The key outcomes are community change, social change and improved quality of life, which require that in addition to general developmental goals, the effects of participation need to be measured in terms of locally relevant outcomes for children
8) Research on participation in early childhood and middle childhood is important in addition to the traditional focus on adolescence.

In addition there was agreement about some of the questions for future investigation:

1) How are children already participating in their everyday lives and settings? How could these activities be made more visible?

2) How do children take part in participatory processes and to what extent do they take part in implementing programs based on their ideas?

3) What are children's beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about participation?

4) When children participate, what are the outcomes for them and their communities?

5) How does participation change adult-child relationships? Child-child relationships? Local and national cultures of childhood?

6) When people try to increase children?s participation, what are the dilemmas, tensions, and barriers that this involves?

7) What current legislative and structural models exist for reaching out to a broad array of children to inform government decisions?

8) How can structures of governance be changed to accommodate children on their own terms? How can the culture of participation be aligned with children's own cultures?

9) What are the implications for organisations when they support children as partners?

10) Can it be demonstrated that child participation improves poverty reduction programming and policies for poor children and their families?

11) What are the links between children?s participation and socially responsible democratic citizenship?

Efforts to understand children's and adult's perspectives would require interviews, focus groups, questionnaires with some open-ended items, and other qualitative measures. Questions about outcomes under different conditions invite quasi-experimental designs, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research. For greatest validity, some questions should be addressed with longitudinal designs.

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Symposium Programme


- Welcome by Louise Chawla (director, Growing Up in Cities project) and Per Miljeteig (director, Childwatch International)
- Introductions
- The legal framework: Gary Melton with Robin Kimbrough-Melton
- Development as widening participation in sociocultural activities: Anne B. Smith
- Children's participation in politics: Susan Limber and Natalie Hevener Kaufman

LUNCH with guests from the Norwegian child research community
Welcome by University of Oslo and UNESCO officials
Brief remarks by Louise Chawla and Gary Melton about GUIC and CWI and the relation of this symposium to those initiatives
Poster session: Children's participation in community and national developments around the world

- Children's participation in social and political change
Estonia: Mati Heidmets
South Africa: Rose September
Western Europe: Jens Qvortrup and Anne Trine Kjørholt


- Children's participation in community settings
Neighborhoods: Barry Percy-Smith
Schools physical environment: Robin Moore and Nilda Cosco
Social environment: Karen Nairn
Health care facilities: Nittaya Kotchabhakdi

- Faith-based organizations: Robin Kimbrough-Melton with Gary Melton
- Working children and youth organizing themselves: Per Miljeteig
- Substitute care: Jiri Kovarik
- Refugee and immigrant programs: Per Egil Mjaavatn and Jo Boyden
- How can organizations facilitate children's participation?: Annette Giertsen
- Continued discussion of organizations facilitation of child participation and children's effects on the organizations, with reference to the poster session




- What happens to children when they participate?
Personality: Louise Chawla
Moral and social development: Andy Dawes

- What happens to families and other primary settings when children participate?: Målfrid Grude Flekkøy
What are the existing relevant data sets and measures?: Jo-Ann Amadeo

Small group discussions

Synthesis: Research plans: Louise Chawla (Moderator)

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Published July 14, 2008 4:22 PM - Last modified Apr. 17, 2013 3:41 PM