Children as participants in Policy Labs: the experience in Mechelen

The topic of Mechelen’s Policy Lab is how to improve the sense of belonging of children and youngsters with migration background at school. It goes without saying such topic cannot be addressed without children and youngsters being effectively involved in the policy labs. For this reason the city of Mechelen put a lot of effort in recruiting  pupils of several elementary and secondary schools. In the first and second policy lab two 11-year old girls took part (the youngsters proved to be more difficult to recruit but that story is for another post).

In order to be ensure that the children would feel at ease and that they could participate effectively in the policy labs, the facilitators took several measures:

  • One facilitator organised a preparatory interview with the girls at their school and in presence of one of their teachers (also a policy lab participant). During this interview the facilitator explained what was going to happen in the workshops, where the workshops would take place, who the other participants were etc. The children were also shown photos of some of the other participants as well as of the location.
  • During the policy lab there was a dedicated facilitator that only worked with the children, during group activities and plenary sessions.
  • The facilitation techniques used were adapted to children: a variety of drawing material was made available so the girls could express themselves visually
  • Considering that the workshops were long (from 9:30 to 16h), additional short breaks were organized for the children.

The additional effort paid up and the children were able to participate in the workshops and to express themselves. The girls also enjoyed this experience:

“It was nice to be part of the workshops and to have teachers and other adults listen to what we had to say”.

The other, adult, participants also found the presence of the children to be an added value and they were appreciative of the use of visualisation techniques.

“When the children brought their story based on the drawings… it was brilliant and it works. They did a wonderful presentation of what they discussed. For the children this was a great help in telling what they had talked about.” (adult PL participant)

The facilitators experienced also several difficulties during the policy labs:

  • While children were able to fully express themselves in the small groups, it became difficult for them to do so during plenary discussions.
  • The language used during discussions was often too abstract and full of technical jargon related to education and policy.

The facilitators will address these problems while preparing for the 3rd policy lab, scheduled on November 16th.