Societal or stakeholder participation has become a growing trend. We look at why this is the case, in particular with young people’s participation. We also examine what the benefits of participation with young people are, and pull out the transferable lessons for business and government. We explore the issues and opportunities for business
Are children a hidden stakeholder for your organisation? What are the benefits in engaging with young people? Are companies and government missing a trick by not involving young people?
“Participation in sense of “taking part in”, or being present”
“Participation in the sense of knowing that one’s actions are taken note of and may be acted upon – which is sometimes called empowerment”
(Boyden and Ennew, 1997)
There has been a shift in thinking where participation of young people from being of marginal concern has now become a central issue for organisations working with young people.
This reflects a similar trend in government and industry whether as “stakeholder engagement” or “user consultation” or “delivering services that meet the needs of the users”.
What are the reasons for this? A recent London study identified several causes in the case of youth participation. These can be broadly categorised as follows and also have transferable meaning for business responsibility:
Growth of the power of the consumer: user groups (or in the business world, consumers) are having an impact on decision-making in the private and public sector
Pressure groups: voluntary sector organisations, single-issue campaigners, and pressure groups have also been a increasing factor impacting upon the ways in which private and public sector organisations are run, and the extent to which they involve “users”
Legal and institutional framework bringing issues to the fore: In the case of children, the UN convention on the Rights of Children set down explicitly the rights of young people. For business this type of framework has been represented by the new laws and codes emerging on governance, environmental impact, worker consultation etc.
Media attention and scandals: For child participation this has been in the high profile cases of child abuse at educational or care institutions. Business has also seen its share of high profile scandals, e.g. Nike and Gap and child labour or Nestle and the baby milk scandal. These have had a knock-on effect: changes in company strategy, because of the impact on business reputation, in the most extreme cases of changes to legislation on business conduct.
Growth of “citizenship” as a policy issue: New Labour increasingly focused on what it calls a “stakeholder democracy”. Its most recent manifestation of listening to the people, has been launched: the “Big Conversation” with Britain.
What are the benefits of participation?
What are the benefits of involvement with children
Democracy: Openness, involvement and participation, encourage the embeddedness of and respect for democratic procedures and principles
A voice and an influence: children are empowered have an influence and choice in a decision that impacts upon them
Updated services: The process of involvement ensures that products and services are ready to meet changing needs from users. For business this is particularly relevant. Attitudinal and socio-economic factors emerging within the younger population, could be alerting you to new risks and opportunities in the marketplace. By engaging with young people in your new product and service development as well as your growth strategy, you could be one step ahead of the game.
Child development: young people experience new aspects of their own potential, and learn about individual responsibility. They also acquire new skills, such as communication, debate, negotiation, prioritisation and decision-making. For businesses, this ties into building the foundations of a workforce for the future – a future workforce that is mature, confident, skilled and articulate.
Active creators: Through participation, young people see themselves as active creators of services rather than passive users. This makes for a pro-active approach in all walks of life.
Fit for the future: young people who have experience of participation in a safe environment, will have greater understanding of democratic procedures, and be more prepared for participation in decision-making when they move into wider society
Different types of participation
There are different ways in which participation occurs, and models have been devised to describe and conceptualise these differences. For example in the 1960s Sherry Arnstein created a “ladder of participation” describing organisational behaviour and interaction between what she called the “haves” and the “have-nots” (1).
More recently, studies have been done on models of child participation (2). Article 13 has taken both these models and adapted them adding a further level of complexity.
Different types of participation can be thought of in terms of power relations. This is something that Arnstein stressed in her model.
In our research we found that participation could also be thought of along different lines and we have outlined a number of attributes of participation e.g. who sets the agenda? Who initiates the project or dialogue? Who makes the decisions? Who actions the decisions?
We have mapped these attributes against Arnstein’s ladder, so for example “Citizen control” in terms of child participation would mean, that children initiate the dialogue, set the agenda, hold the information, make the decisions and implement the actions.
However this changes as we move down the ladder. So for Consultation to Manipulation, children would have no control over any of these aspects.
Models such as these can be useful tools to indicate current levels of engagement, in all spheres of activity, business, governmental and societal. They can be used as a benchmarking tool, as well as a way to track the development of an organisation in its engagement with its stakeholders.
This model can also provide a useful checklist when engaging with key stakeholder groups:
Who has initiated the engagement or initiative?
To what extent has the agenda-setting process been shared?
How much information-sharing has occurred?
How will the decision-making process happen? In partnership or unilaterally?