Participation as precondition for true social change

escalera Roger EN

Participation forms the core of our methodology and is central to our creativity.

Participation is crucial for a teacher seeking to engage students and parents in the learning process. Participation is fundamental for a company aiming to involve its employees in an empowerment scheme and strengthen corporate culture. Participation is essential for a public authority (city council or ministry) wanting to involve citizens in an awareness-raising campaign. Participation is key for an NGO aspiring to transform its members and volunteers into social activists.

P.A.U. Education’s theoretical commitment to participation is based on the works of Roger Hart, Professor at the City University of New York. Roger inspired articles 12 and 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, at P.A.U. Education, we believe that what applies for children also applies for every individual.

According to the UN, children have the right to express their views freely. The right to freedom of expression includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. This right should be extended to all members (children or adults) of any community.

Everybody can agree on the benefits of participation and the importance of democratic values. The problem emerges when participatory projects have to be designed, and when participatory initiatives have to be launched. Too many participatory initiatives fail to give children at school, citizens in a city or employees in a company a choice about the subjects that matter to them, time to formulate their opinions, the space to put forward proposals and the means to apply them.

Roger Hart uses a ladder as a metaphor to illustrate the different degrees of initiation and input children can have when working with adults (in the image above). This ladder helps visualise what is and what is not participation. The first three levels are clearly non-participatory, describing situations in which, for instance, children’s voices are used or manipulated to convey an adult message. The higher steps on the ladder represent genuine participation.

Our work is based on a reinterpretation of this children’s participation ladder to extend it to any type of participatory strategy involving adults and/or children. Our main task is therefore to design projects that allow genuine participation at the highest possible levels of the participation ladder as a precondition for social change.


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