Expanding Youth Participation

A group in the United Kingdom just put out a useful PDF documenting a “pathway to participation.” YoMo is a “community interest company” that is committed to youth participation. Their work across the UK looks great, and I am enjoying reading their website and blog, and looking forward to reading their materials soon.

In the meantime, I have dug into their PDF and the blog entry about it and have decided that they are on the way to discovering something powerful. The author talks about creating this “pathway”:

The ‘pathway’ is the ‘journey’ that young people are able to take through the organisation – its how young people are able to progress from their initial involvement and then on to whatever positions of responsibility/involvement the organisation can offer them.

The challenge for me here is the linear thinking represented by the imagery of a “pathway.” One thing experience has shown me is that youth participation – in all of its vibrant, divergent and chaordic ways – is not linear. That means that in no way can – or should – young people and adults working together in partnership be expected move from “here” to “there” in a predictable way, no matter what adults want. There are rhythms to their involvement, patterns that emerge and submerge that can be sussed out and made obvious. But as for a pathway, I think it may be too elusive, to say nothing of confining, to predict.

Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation is predicated on this notion of linear involvement. The dilemma inherent in that popular tool is that sometimes it may appropriate for young people to merely participate as consultants rather than full partners – just as the opposite is true, too. We have to move past this kind of oversimplification and recognize that if the building is burning down we don’t need to build consensus – we just need to get outta here. The same is true at different times in different parts of our communities, and these types of models just don’t evidence that reality.

My most concentrated attempt thus far is the Freechild Measure for Social Change By and With Young People. In this piece I simply reinterpeted Hart’s rungs and laid them out in a spiral form. When I originally laid this out in 2005 I thought it was fine, but now I see that there is a lack of elegance and applicability in it, and perhaps that what draws me back to Hart’s Ladder itself. Its also why I can appreciate YoMo’s thinking, because frankly, I have tried to say the same thing myself.

We need new dreams, new visions for how to move this movement forward, instead of spinning our individual and collective heals, no matter which side of the world we’re on.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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