Adding negotiation to the participation vocabulary?

I’ve just been catching up on reading the findings from the MacArthur Digital Youth Project Final Report (a much needed contribution to the field of youth & digital media/digital learning and well worth taking a look at…) and one phrase has jumped out at me:

“youth-adult negotiations”

Negotiation is not a word I hear a lot when talking about youth participation. Yet I suspect it is an important one.

I still encounter a lot of contexts where youth participation seems to be limited to asking young people, in the abstract, what they want. And then not delivering on the responses because they’re to tricky to implement.

But then, if you ask any group of citizens, young or old, what they want – without articulating the constraints (budgets, sign-off, existing strategic plans) then you are likely to get a list of ideas most of which would be almost impossible to implement (try it…).

The bit missing is the negotiation. Setting out the constraints on a decision, but allowing them to be critiqued. Making clear to young people the assumptions on which you are basing decisions (and in the process, probably becoming more aware of them yourself) and then getting into dialogue over these assumptions. Responding to young people’s suggestions for change with explanations of which bits you think won’t be easy to implement, but encouraging young people to negotiate and creatively pursue the implementation of the changes they want to see.

Of course, one’s position in a negotiation is often about power – and ensuring young people in participation negotiations are on an equal footing with adults is perhaps the most challenging part of all…

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