A Journey of Discovery, Children's Creative Participation in Planning

Summary: In the summer of 1998, Save the
Children was asked to carry out a
consultation with children in East
London in connection with plans to
build a Children's Discovery Centre
(CDC) in Stratford, East London, to
open in the year 2001.

Imagine a place where children can make discoveries about language.
Then imagine how you would create such a place. What would you put in
it? What would it look and feel like? Who would you ask? How would
you ask them?

In the summer of 1998, Save the Children was asked to carry out a
consultation with children in East London in connection with plans to
build a Children's Discovery Centre (CDC) in Stratford, East London,
to open in the year 2001. The CDC management wanted to make sure that
children would be involved in the planning of the Centre right from
the start, so it invited Save the Children to become involved in a
consultation project.

The main aims of the project were:
- to find out from children what they would like to have in this
Centre and in what way they would like to be involved in planning and
running it, on an ongoing basis;
- to find out from children the best ways in which adults can consult
with children.
This project was different from many previous consultations with
children, which tended to focus on such issues that children were
already familiar with, such as what they thought about the childcare
they received, the rules they wanted in their clubs, or the play
equipment they would like in their park. In these instances, children
had some knowledge and experience of the options open to them; they
knew what worked for them and what did not. Here, however, was an
idea that was new to children. They would need to imagine the
possibilities, build on experience from other areas of their lives,
and come up with their own options.

Another difference was that children were to be asked how to consult
with children. What are the best ways to reach children? Where should
adults go to meet them? How can adults let children know about things
that are happening? How adults and children communicate with each
other in ways that both will understand? Which consultation methods
work well and are fun>

These two special features of the consultation - children's active
participation in the consultation, and consulting children about
consultation - were at the core of the methods used and insights
gains, which could have a wider application than just to this
project. They could be used by others wishing to consult with
children on any services being planned, environmental, recreational,
educational, medical or in the care system.

The idea for a Children's Discovery Centre came from a charitable
trust, The Gulbenkian Foundation, which has a long-standing interest
in promoting centres for a family activity and learning. It joined
with Community Links and the Stratford Development Partnership to
form a company with charitable status: the Children's Discovery
Centre. Newham Council donated a derelict Victorian building for the
project. Save the Children's London Development Team was commissioned
to carry out the consultation, working in collaboration with
playworkers employed by Newham Council at its summer playschemes.
This collaboration was aided by the Children's Services Manager at
Newham, who arranged access to the playschemes and liaised on all
practical matters during the consultation. The children, who were
aged 5-11, were from summer playschemes and after-school clubs in

All the partners in this project recognise the value of children
taking part in the planning of services for children. There are two
reasons for such an approach. The first, stated clearly in the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), is that children have
rights. They have a right to freedom of information and expression;
they have a right to participate in and express their views on all
matters affecting them, and their views should be given due weight in
accordance with their age and maturity.

Save the Children has worked in many ways to make a reality of
children's right to participate: "Real participation includes the
chance to express views and to contribute to shared decision-making.
Participation in the fullest sense means not just taking part but
having some influence."
The second reason is practical. Children are the experts on being
children. They know what will interest them, what they want and need,
what should be included in any services intended for them. By
involving them from the outset, we can benefit from their expertise,
avoid costly mistakes and create a service that is likely to be
effective and successful. If they are involved on a continuing basis,
they can advise on how the service ought to be adapted or developed,
either because some ideas have not worked in reality, or because of
changing times and needs.

The consultation process was to mirror, as far as possible, the
culture planned for the CDC. It was to be child centred, using the
ways through which children naturally make sense of the world and
express their meanings: play, imagination, exploration, creativity.
It would work with language in a range of forms through written,
visual and verbal communication. It was to be a voyage of discovery,
with no right or wrong outcomes, with room to make mistakes and learn
from them, and to abandon dead ends and try new routes. It had to be
flexible, experimental, so that it could adapt to changing needs and
situations. It had to be fun, to engage the children. Most of all, it
had to be truly participative, to empower the children, enabling them
to build confidence in themselves and their abilities.

The culture of the project and the spirit of discovery inform the
structure and layout of this book. The next section, 'Scanning the
Horizon', describes the consultation brief and process agreed with
the Steering Group and the questions that Save the Children
facilitators asked when drawing up their framework for
consultation. 'Planning the Route' charts the ground that had to be
covered, what needed to be done, possible ways of doing it, and the
likely time-scale. 'The Journey' describes what actually happened
during Stage One of the consultation: the playschemes and staff who
were involved; it then offers practical photocopiable activity
sheets, which have been adapted from the consultation activities that
were carried out as part of the project. These activities are
flexible, and can be adapted and used in a wide range of
consultations. The section concludes with how these activities worked
in practice as part of the project, and then offers a summary of
children's responses. 'Looking Back' considers the evaluations of the
project so far. 'Summing Up' summarises the project findings and the
benefits of consultation to both the children and the CDC. 'Looking
Forward' outlines plans for Stage Two of the consultation, to take
place at a later stage, recommendations for the continuing
consultation with children on the CDC and general guidelines for
effective consultation with children. The last section contains
activity sheets and materials that can be used on a wide range of
consultations. These can be photocopied or adapted as necessary.



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