What do we mean by Participation?
The literal definition of participation is ‘taking part’. It is well recognised that there is a spectrum of degrees of power in taking part, from giving opinions on a predetermined issue for adults to decide upon (consultation), to young people choosing their agenda and taking their own decisions (full participation). As with many powerful and popular concepts, ‘participation’ is used (and sometimes abused) to describe many different relationships and activities. As Crowley explains:
Participation is a process not an event and Empowerment is the outcome. (Crowley, A. 2004)
Roger Hart (Hart, 1992) provides an alternative way of looking at participation that incorporates consultation as one of the many methods of participation. Hart’s famous ‘ladder’ has seven levels of participation ranging from 'manipulative' and 'decorative' at the bottom of the ladder, to child initiated projects and sharing decision making with adults, at the top.
Hart’s ladder seems to suggest that all participation of children and young people should be on the highest rung. In recent years, some commentators have questioned the use of the ladder concept as it implies a hierarchy of value. A more useful model is that illustrated below, displaying the degrees of participation in a circular layout. Such a model moves away from the assumption that projects or organisations should always aim for the highest rung on the ladder, and recognises that different approaches may be best in different circumstances.
The Welsh Assembly Government held a competition to develop a sound-bite for the definition of participation. The following definition has been adopted as a result by the Welsh Assembly Government and the Children and Young People’s Participation Consortium for Wales:
Participation means that it is my right to be involved in making decisions, planning and reviewing an action that might affect me. Having a voice, having a choice.