Barry Checkoway, professor of social work and urban planning at the University of Michigan, defines participation as:
"the involvement of people in the decisions that influence their lives."
There are different levels of participation, and participation does not always result in influence.Public participation in community development should be genuine and active, to balance the power of different stakeholdersin determining community planning and decision-making, and to avoid tokenism and manipulation.
DEFINING "YOUTH PARTICIPATION"
While there are many forms of youth involvement in community development --including community-service, youth summits, and enrichment forums -- not all forms of youth participation engage youth meanfully in the process of change in their community. Youth participation at a "nontoken" level requires that youth are actlively part of envisioning, planning, and creating real community change.
Although it can be individually beneficial for youth to "role play" work as planners and/or civic leaders, such hands-on learning can foster an unrealistic sense of their influence over society and/or the actual process of change in their community.
Gaining the skills and confidence to act is essential to democratic citizenship, but when youth's input into community development goes unrealized in the community dialogue and decision making process, such "speaking out" can be alienating and damaging.
To avoid alienation, it is essential that youth understand and are involved in the entire community change process of research,planning, action, and reflection - including recognizing the impossibility of carrying out some of their ideas to frution.
DEFENDING YOUTH PARTICIPATION
Although some feel that involving youth in pressing community issues and conflicts will lead to their political coercion, it is essential that youth be exposed to the differing perspectives and values held in their own communities with their civic education.
Some question the value of attempting to engage youth in community development when there is little genuine participation of adults. The best response is that we are preparing young people for a better society, not our current one.
Engaging youth as partners in community planning and decision-making is a starting point for realizing that society.
Hart, Roger A. (1997) Children's Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care
Mullahey, Ramona, Yve Susskind, and Barry Checkoway (1999) Youth Participation in Community Planning
Please contact me with your ideas, comments, suggestions or questions
Created May 2004, by Mark Tirpak, MSCRP Student