Child and youth participation in Eltville: Children from the “Kindergartenburg” day care centre were able to influence the design of a garden area.
Children and young people are regularly either disregarded in participation processes, or they are not considered in an age-appropriate manner. As a result, the concerns of the younger generations have less influence on decision-making. Despite the widespread awareness of the problem, there are comparatively few approaches to involve children and young people in participation processes age-appropriately.
For this reason, CrowdInsights joined forces with the city of Eltville in the summer of 2021 to look for methods that offer children and young people an opportunity to articulate their needs and wishes. This resulted in the pilot project “Kindergartenburg,” which was intended to test these methods in practice. Here, children from the “Kindergartenburg” day care centre were able to actively participate in the design of a garden area adjacent to the day care and articulate their wishes and ideas in a playful way.
In developing the methodology, the problem areas that play a role in child and youth participation – in contrast to participation processes with adults – were first worked out. The primary problem identified was the language barrier. For an adult, it is not always clear what a child wants to communicate. Especially with complex issues, this can become a problem insofar that communication from children to adults always involves losing some content.
A secondary communicative problem is the varying degree of verbal fluency of children and adolescents. Children and adolescents are generally less eloquent than adults and find it much more difficult to respond to open questions. Therefore, formats based on direct verbal communication rather than written answers were used especially for this participation process. In addition, a method was developed that embeds the entire process in a child-friendly setting. Within this setting, an overarching question was broken down into simpler questions to make it easier for the children to formulate answers or even to start telling stories.
Planning and Consultation with all Participants
An important aspect of child and youth participation is consultation of and agreement with all participants. The methodological approach and the schedule should be discussed several times with all supervisors and other participants in order to sharpen the understanding and to convince the participants of the meaningfulness of the procedure.
Implementation of “The Participatory Story“
For the actual process, an adventure setting was chosen that sends the children on a discovery journey. As adventurers, the children had to solve riddles, go on dream journeys, put their imagination on paper or build it with Lego, and decide between different possibilities in a labyrinth. The methodology aims to provide the children with a hook for articulating their opinions. Accordingly, it is not the children’s painting itself that is relevant, but the conversation about the picture or the Lego construction. Another concern was that the children should not only provide input, but enjoy participating in the process.
A warm-up and a closing for the day were done together in the whole group.
In a next step the children were divided into four groups and sent to four stations throughout the day, each of which was integrated into the adventure setting:
The troll station: The children are stopped on their adventure journey by a troll and have to turn a wheel of fortune that determines which of the troll’s questions they have to answer. The questions at this station are very specific, which is why it is a good idea to use this method to obtain answers to detailed questions.
The metaphorical labyrinth: On their journey, the children have run into a labyrinth and choose one of two possible paths at a junction. It is important to let the children justify their decision. This approach is a good way to weigh up scenarios and work out preferences.
Lego station: This station asks the children the abstract question of what should not be missing in their garden. They are asked to recreate their thoughts with Lego. This station was chosen so that the children also have room to articulate their wishes outside of the concrete questions.
Painting station: The painting station follows the same idea as the Lego station, but the children are sent on a secret journey of discovery into an already existing perfect garden in a dream journey. They are then asked to paint what they have seen on their journey of discovery. So the perspective of the question is different. In addition, we wanted to offer the children another creative approach.
At the end of the project day, all children were given a “participation certificate,” seed packets, and sweets. Each child was allowed to collect the reward individually and received applause from the whole group. This ensured that the children left the implementation with a positive feeling and, with the certificate, received an object in their hands that would remind them of this day in the long term.
Writing and Clustering
All stations were recorded by the staff of the Youth Welfare Office with the help of dictaphones. The recorded protocols were written down and documented as answers on the participation platform mitgestalten.eltville.de . When writing them down, the comments of the youth welfare workers and the wording of the children were closely followed. As is usual in an insights process, core statements were isolated from the minutes and then clustered. From the clusters, insights were then derived in a further step.
A total of five insights could be derived from the children’s statements, which can be divided into the following five areas:
The children gave heterogeneous answers with regard to the use of the garden. The children want to use the garden to relax on the lawn, but also for climbing, gardening, or playing – the main thing is that the garden should be exciting. Based on this, the children want hiding places, climbing opportunities, meadow areas, play opportunities, and plant beds. The children are very unanimous about the plants: there should be many colourful flowers, fruit trees for snacking, and vegetable beds. The majority of the children also want to help with the plant care.
Furthermore, the children would like to have a water element – partly for splashing around and partly to be able to water the plants. There were also a few comments that other animals should be kept in the garden in addition to the animals that are usually found in a garden. The last cluster of findings was the children’s suggestions, which tended to be more difficult to implement. For example, the children would like to have fairies, gnomes, and magic trees in their perfect garden.
The results of the process are now available on the City of Eltville’s co-design platform hosted by CrowdInsights. The implementation of the children’s wishes is now being examined by the children’s and youth commissioners and will be realised next spring if possible. In addition to the knowledge gained, the pilot project “Kindergartenburg” also gave the children a sense of self-efficacy and showed them that they can have an influence.