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First draft, 12

    Final Report

    ESF Exploratory Workshop “Children’s participation in decision-making: Exploring theory,

    policy and practice across Europe”, Berlin, 16 – 18 June 2008

    1

Executive Summary

    An intensive ESF Exploratory Workshop, titled “Children’s participation in decision-making:

    Exploring theory, policy and practice across Europe”, was held successfully in Berlin on the

    th16-18 June 2008.

    Over the last decade, the rhetoric of participation has become prominent within policy and practice

    pertaining to children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that a child’s

    views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting the child, subject to the

    child’s age and maturity (Article 12). Childhood Studies has emphasised that children can and should

    be seen as social agents and not passive subjects, well able and already contributing to families and

    communities. In line with this, governmental and non-governmental organisations are increasingly

    seeking to involve children in decision-making issues through a range of participatory initiatives. Such

    participation has developed in many European countries, both in Western and Eastern Europe; it is a

    core principle for work by UNICEF and large international NGOs such as Save the Children; the Euro-

    pean Commission (2006) has issued a communication on children’s rights, including children’s par-

    ticipation.

    As practice and policy have proliferated, tensions and challenges have been revealed. Even amongst

    the most ardent supporters of children’s participation, there are concerns about tokenism, lack of impact and consultation fatigue. Theoretical work on children’s participation has not kept abreast of such challenges. Debates within different academic communities have rarely coincided and, to date,

    the development studies literature has failed to adequately inform such debates. While the limita-

    tions of participatory methods are often discussed, a host of important questions surrounding the

    precise nature, politics and ethical status of participation remain largely unasked and unanswered.

    The workshop addressed these gaps in three ways:

    1. Mapping and evaluating current practice, policy and typologies of children’s participation, for

    their strengths and limitations

    2. Examining concepts and theorisations from a range of social science disciplines for their po-

    tential usefulness for theorising and testing children’s participation

    3. Capitalising on the diversity and commonalities across European countries, in order to learn

    from the different theoretical and empirical approaches for mutual challenge and develop-

    ment.

    The workshop’s scientific content was organised to meet these. For example, contributions used

    disciplinary approaches from political science, psychology, social anthropology, sociology, social pol-

    icy, and socio-legal studies. European coverage was excellent, with representation from Scandinavia

    (countries known as at the forefront of children’s participation), Central Europe (countries with con-

    trasting approaches to children’s rights and participation opportunities), Eastern Europe (countries that have recently experienced considerable political and civil change), and Southern Europe (coun-

    tries known for familial policies, with innovative examples of participation). As the workshop was

    highly participative and intensive, it benefited considerably from the inter-disciplinary and cross-

    European contributions. Further, newer scholars with leadership potential were invited and took on

    supported roles as presenters and chairs.

    The resulting discussions led to the overarching points:

    ? ‘Participation’ is an empty concept, which can be used in different ways and can have very

    different sometimes unintended or ‘hidden’ – outcomes.

    2

? Despite the supposed commonality of the UNCRC (which all participants’ countries had signed),

    there were unexpected differences in approaches to children’s rights and in particular to par-

    ticipation or citizenship rights, which were often used synonymously.

    ? The workshop debated the advantages and disadvantages of the UNCRC as a frame for under-

    standing children’s participation. Children’s legal rights should not be understood as the end

    but as the beginning of a dialogue, which can lead to more social acknowledgement of children

    as a ‘social group’ and children having more influential roles in society. Participation processes

    of children can start outside legal frameworks and outside ‘rights-based’ educational projects.

    ? Children’s rights in Europe are predominantly promoted by adults and not children themselves.

    The exceptions are worth exploring further, as are the working children movements and their

    'protagonism in Latin America.

    ? There has been a resurgent interest of children’s citizenship, as a way to understand children’s

    participation. Citizenship can be questioned for its emancipatory potential, particularly due to

    its exclusive and adult-dominated meanings. Yet the discourse of citizenship has potential for

    acknowledging children as social and political actors.

    ? Based on empirical research from Norway, the strict distinction between public sphere (politics,

    community) and private sphere (family), and collective and individual decision-making, was

    questioned.

    ? The relationship between participation and addressing/ fighting against discrimination was

    debated. This is not an ‘automatic’ outcome of participation, but participation can contribute

    to more balanced power relations between children and adults.

    The discussions identified that there was far more diversity amongst leading childhood and children’s

    rights scholars than anticipated, suggesting considerable more interaction would be beneficial to

    moving this field forward.

Participants committed themselves to joint follow-up activities such as:

    Research:

    ? developing comparative research projects on such issues as children in cities, children’s mi-

    gration, the history of children’s participation;

    ? a proposal to the ESF Research Conference, for a conference on quality education*;

    ? a proposal for a COST Action on children’s rights research network*. Publications:

    ? disseminating workshop papers and/ or abstracts through website and mailbase lists*;

    ? exploring the potential for a regular workshop paper series, using the internet for sharing of

    quality postgraduate papers*;

    ? exploring the possibility of a ‘European Yearbook on Children’s Rights’ and/ or textbook on

    children’s rights*.

    Networking:

    ? developing existing websites for collaborative work*;

    ? developing a regional Mediterranean network*;

    ? encouraging new researchers to use the workshop network for individual fellowships; devel-

    oping interactions with policy makers at a European level*.

Action is already being undertaken on the * activities.

    3

Scientific Content of the Workshop

    The Exploratory Workshop addressed children’s participation in ‘public’ or ‘collective’ decision-

    making. Over the last decade, the rhetoric of participation has become prominent within policy and

    practice pertaining to children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that a

    child’s views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting the child, subject to

    the child’s age and maturity (Article 12). Childhood Studies has emphasised that children can and

    should be seen as social agents and not passive subjects, well able and already contributing to fami-

    lies and communities. In line with this, governmental and non-governmental organisations are in-

    creasingly seeking to involve children in decision-making issues through a range of participatory ini-

    tiatives. Such participation has developed in many European countries, both in Western and Eastern

    Europe; it is a core principle for work by UNICEF and large international NGOs such as Save the Chil-

    dren; the European Commission (2006) has issued a communication on children’s rights, including

    children’s participation.

    As practice and policy have proliferated, tensions and challenges have been revealed. Even amongst

    the most ardent supporters of children’s participation, there are concerns about tokenism, lack of

    impact and consultation fatigue. Theoretical work on children’s participation has not kept abreast of such challenges. Debates within different academic communities have rarely coincided and, to date,

    the international literature has failed to adequately inform these debates. While the limitations of

    participatory methods are often discussed, a host of important questions surrounding the precise

    nature, politics and ethical status of participation remain largely unasked and unanswered.

    The workshop proposed to address these gaps in three ways:

    1. To map and evaluate current practice, policy and typologies of children’s participation, for

    their strengths and limitations

    2. To examine concepts and theorisations from a range of social science disciplines (e.g. politi-

    cal science, psychology, social anthropology, sociology, social policy, and socio-legal studies)

    for their potential usefulness for theorising and testing children’s participation

    3. To capitalise on the diversity and commonalities across European countries, in order to learn

    from the different theoretical and empirical approach for mutual challenge and development

    4

The scientific content of the workshop was organised to meet these three aspects, as elaborated

    upon below.

    1. Mapping and evaluating children’s participation

    Two elements developed this. First, the convenors prepared an overview paper “Current Theorisa-tions of Children’s Participation and Citizenship”, which dealt with different definitions of, typologies of and current controversies on children’s participation. Four conceptual approaches were then pro-posed as potential ways for developing theory around children’s participation in collective decision-making: children’s citizenship, governance and civil society, social capital, and new social movements. This paper was distributed to all paper presenters in advance, as well as all those attending, so as to

    provide material that presenters could use, react to and challenge.

    Second, each paper presenter was asked to address certain questions in their papers. The first two

    asked for current theorisations and typologies of children’s participation within their country context and to consider how these related to current trends in children’s participation activities in their coun-

    try. The later two addressed the next two headings.

    2. To utilise resources from a range of social science disciplines

    This process was begun in the overview paper, which utilised ideas from political science (citizenship,

    governance and civil society), sociology (social capital) and social anthropology (new social move-

    ments, particularly from a Latin American context). It continued through the different disciplinary

    backgrounds of the presenters, for example:

    ? Socio-legal: Prof Dr Wouter Vandenhole and Dr Rudi Roose, University of Antwerp

    ? Media studies and psychology: Dr Nada Korac and Jelena Vranjesevic, University of Novi Sad

    ? Sociology: Dr Giangi Schibotto, University of Bologna

    ? Political science: Highlight presentation from Dan Rusu, University Babes-Bolyai, Clug-Napoca

    3. To capitalise on the diversity and commonalities across European countries

    The workshop attracted participants from all parts of Europe (see final participant list) and the pro-

    gramme was deliberately organised to maximise on this. Presentations were given from Belgium,

    Germany, Italy, Norway, Serbia, and Spain. Because of the number of participants wanting to present,

    5

two highlight presentations (20 minute each) were added to the original programme, from Portugal

    and Romania.

    In this way, the workshop was able to interact with prepared papers on country contexts, trends and

    challenges, and how theorisations were developing in these countries. European coverage was excel-

    lent, with representation from Scandinavia (countries known as at the forefront of children’s partici-pation), Central Europe (countries with considerably diversity in their policy contexts and their ap-

    proaches to children’s participation), Eastern Europe (countries which have experienced considerable

    political and civil change), and Southern Europe (countries known for more familial policies, with

    innovative examples of participation). This diversity indeed raised productive commonalities (e.g.

    similar challenges for sustainable children’s participation) but also uncovered considerable diversity.

    For example, attention to children’s issues has different academic contexts and theorisations in the different areas of Europe, not all of which sit easily together (see below).

    The programme included an ‘engagement activity’ with young people, who had had concrete expe-riences of participation. They represented two very different local youth initiatives. One group agi-

    tates for refugee children and young people, who have been living in Germany for a long time yet

    lack an official status and are in danger of being sent back to their ‘home country’. The other group develops projects and actions in their surroundings referring to their rights and based on their com-

    mon interests. This workshop’s engagement activity provided an excellent opportunity to contextua-

    lise the conceptual and theoretical reflections with the actual experiences and views of young people.

    It allowed workshop participants to ‘test’ theoretical concepts, such as the power of the ‘invitation’

    for young people to become involved in participation activities, for the organisational ‘governance’ beneficial for supporting participation, and the ‘trajectory’ of children’s participation from engage-ment, to involvement, to moving on.

    6

Assessment of Results and Contribution to the Future Direction of the

    Field

    Contributions from presenters

    Following the overview paper and highlight presentations, contributions from Belgium, Norway,

    Germany, Serbia, Spain and Italy were presented and discussed. The contribution from Belgium was

    strongly theoretical, revisiting critically the exclusive understanding of children’s rights as legal rights

    and pleading for a contextualised conceptualisation and implementation of participation rights. The

    Norwegian was based on an empirical study and asked for the spaces of participation in family life

    and schools to perceive children as differently-equal citizens.

    The German contribution gave an overview on empirical studies about children’s participation in

    municipalities, child day-care facilities and schools and discussed the results in the light of different

    concepts of political participation. The contribution from Serbia was centered on the relations be-

    tween children and media and asked for the possibilities of participative media education as a tool

    for improving the status of children. It utilised ideas from child development to consider such media

    education.

    The Spanish contribution traced different legal instruments and organisational contexts by which

    children’s participation is encouraged and framed, and discussed critically their relevance for becom-

    ing citizens in a participatory democracy. The contribution from Italy raised the limits and ambigui-

    ties of the dominant participation discourse and linked it with the consumer role of young people,

    and asked for pathways to protagonic participation.

    Resulting discussion

    All contributions were discussed directly after they were presented and also in plenary sessions,

    where the group explored how the different theories, disciplines, research results and national con-

    texts discussed can enrich understandings of children’s participation. While some contributions took a more individualistic approach, others emphasised the collective right to participation manifested in

    social movements. There was criticism of (false) dichotomies, e.g. adult rights vs. children’s rights;

    7

individual rights vs. collective rights; dependent vs. independent participation; decision-making in

    family vs. public sphere. Certain overarching points can be drawn out of the discussions:

    Participants realised that there are very different and even opposing definitions and understandings

    of participation. ‘Participation’ was seen as an empty concept, which can be used in different ways

    and can have very different sometimes unintended or ‘hidden’ – outcomes. On the one hand, more functional understandings see participation as an instrument for ‘integration’ or ‘social inclusion’. On

    the other hand, normative understandings see participation as a value in itself, as a form of ‘self-realisation’ or as an expression of movements for ‘emancipation’. The workshop participants agreed that the search to create the ultimate definition for ‘participation’ should be abandoned and that the term should always be understood in a contextualised and localised ways. This includes being aware

    of the disciplinary bias of all definitions and to look for interdisciplinary dialogue.

    Despite the supposed commonality of the UNCRC (which all participants’ countries had signed), there

    were unexpected differences in approaches to children’s rights and in particular to participation or citizenship rights, which were often used synonymously. While much has been written and discussed

    about the applicability of children’s rights in general, and the UNCRC in particular, in the Global South,

    the workshop discussion brought out the considerable differences even within Europe.

    The UNCRC has been a cornerstone of children’s rights in Europe, as well as internationally, and has

    been a major impetus to children’s participation. The workshop debated the advantages and disad-

    vantages of the UNCRC as a frame for understanding children’s participation. The UNCRC itself was a political compromise. Children’s legal rights should not be understood as the end but as the begin-ning of a dialogue, which can lead to more social acknowledgement of children as a ‘social group’ and

    children having more influential roles in society. Participation processes of children can start outside

    legal frameworks and even outside ‘rights-based’ educational projects.

    Looking across Europe, the legal sphere and political community remain largely adult-dominated.

    Children’s rights are predominantly promoted by adults and not children themselves (although with notable exceptions, including the groups of young people who attended the engagement activity).

    The workshop discussed how children’s rights can become rights that children articulate and use for

    themselves.

    There has been a resurgent interest of children’s citizenship, as a way to understand children’s par-ticipation. Just like participation, citizenship can be understood in different ways. Some workshop

    8

    participants doubted if citizenship was an appropriate notion for children’s (political) participation, due to its potential for exclusion and its adult-dominated meanings. Others valued the discourse on

    citizenship as a chance to acknowledge children as social and political subjects, for its emphasis on

    process as well as status. This allows citizenship to go beyond the legal sphere and be understood in

    a lived way and contextualised to children’s different social realities. The daily activities with friends

    and within peer-groups can be essential for the development of ‘lived’ citizenship. From such reflec-tions, strict distinctions between public sphere (politics, community) and private sphere (family),

    collective and individual decision-making, were questioned.

    Discrimination is a powerful policy concept, particularly as the European Union is increasingly ad-

    dressing different diversity dimensions and the power of the European Court of Human Rights. The relationship between participation and addressing/ fighting against discrimination was debated. There were no doubts that this cannot be an automatic outcome of participation but participation

    can contribute to more balanced power relations between children and adults. On the other hand, it

    was underlined that we have to take into account that children themselves have different life-

    histories and are living in different social conditions, which make it inevitable to look for special ways

    how to empower and amplify the space of action for under-privileged groups of children. In other

    words, equality and difference were seen as key concepts for conceptualising participation.

    A cross-cutting issue during the workshop was whether we can talk of children’s participation as “un-der-theorised”, as it was done in the overview paper, and how to understand the challenge of its

    theorisation. It was conceptualised as the creation of a scientific setting to find hidden aspects, to

    look behind discourses and develop categories for the analysis of actual ideas, spheres, projects and

    methods of participation. Theorisation should be understood not as simply a question of broader or

    better definitions but as a process of research-based reflection on the agency, action and protago-nism of children in daily life taking into account their different life worlds and experiences. Time and space were mentioned as strong analytical devices.

Future directions

    In the workshop’s final day, participants discussed future directions in small groups each partici-pant changing from one to another group, enabling all participants to give input in all groups and in a plenary session on future planning in research, publication and networking.

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The main challenges for empirical research identified are: to understand how children themselves

    experience and conceptualise participation (without necessarily using the term), how and under

    which conditions participation really works; and to put the focus on the variety of ways to participate,

    e.g. its realisation in a dependent or independent way, top-down or bottom-up approach. All

    this should be understood and analysed as a process, which implies learning, but has or should have

    other implications and impacts too.

    Nevertheless, it remains open what kind of knowledge we want to gather and why we want to do it.

    After deconstructing the usual notions of participation we once more require a shared understanding

    of what participation is and how to reconstruct it. The workshop participants agreed that participa-

    tion is “good” but we also have to look how different disciplines contribute to understanding how

    and why it can be beneficial for children and contribute to more justice in societies.

Follow-up activities

    The discussion on follow-up activities led to proposals and agreements for research, publication and

    networking.

    Potential research activities:

    ? Study the effects of training courses in children’s rights

    ? Cross-European comparative studies on:

    o Children in cities

    o Children’s experience of migration

    o The history of children’s participation

    o Children’s biographical trajectories of participation

    ? Conceptualising children’s participation at different levels (such as the individual, the local,

    the national)

    ? Research conference on the topic of quality education

Potential publication activities

    ? To publish the workshop papers in a book

    ? To create a web-based working paper series, particularly for new researchers to the field, in

    cooperation with the “European Network of Masters in Children’s Rights” (ENMCR) and pos-

    sibly “Childhoods Today”, a new e-journal published through the University of Sheffield

    ? To create a “European Yearbook” on children’s rights, or to elaborate a “textbook” on chil-

    dren’s rights, that can be used in MA and training courses.

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