Being at home in our neighbourhood
In this adaptation of her presentation at Child in the City, 2016, Dr. Margriet Wiersma of the Alexander Foundation in the Netherlands describes an action research project to activate and support children and parents in assessing and improving the child friendliness of their local environment.
In any given living environment, activating children and young people and their parents in assessing and improving the child friendliness of their living environment contributes to their social and cultural integration.
Such activation, done well, can reveal the richness of their social and cultural community, enrich their communal lives and feed the reciprocal empowerment between communities. It can also improve the participatory quality of local youth policy.
During a participatory research project in one of the municipalities of Amsterdam in 2016, approximately 72 children and young people, 30 parents and local professionals and officials were actively involved in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of social cohesion, youth safety and youth activities, as a stepping stone towards interactive problem solving on these issues.
Children as co-researchers and change agents
Different participatory research methods were used for the project, each aiming to empower children as co-researchers and change agents: several one-off consultations and interviews with children and parents in public spaces; focus groups on paradoxes in the assessments by children and parents; and training and mentoring of children’s research groups comprising 33 pupils from 4 different elementary schools in conducting their own research project about their neighbourhood.
The findings, grouped into three different categories, reveal paradoxes between the subjective experiences of children and objective realities:
There is a gap between what children profess to know about risks for their social safety and what can be objectively assessed and verified, e.g. anxiety experienced due to the presumed presence of a predatory paedophile in the neighbourhood, but who has never actually been seen by any of the children.
Sufficiency of indoor and outdoor activities
According to some of the children there is not much going on for children in their neighbourhood, while other children mention that there is a lot of fun activities they participate in. There seem to be sufficient opportunities, but many children are not informed about them.
Contentment within and stress between social and cultural communities.
There is much contentment for young people in feeling a sense of belonging to their own community and group. At the same time the research reveals significant stress in relations with other communities and group: ´When someone is in a fight with someone else it only takes minutes before there are two big (cultural) groups fighting’.
These outcomes supply insights into how children and their parents assess their neighbourhood. To enable further processing of these outcomes in a participatory fashion within local youth policy and programmes, a children’s conference was held in June 2016. Here, children and parents each presented their research findings; and creative ideas for their implementation were discussed with local children and young people’s professionals and youth policy officials: feeding into the ongoing development of children and youth policy in the municipality.
Dr. Margriet Wiersma
The Alexander Foundation, the Netherlands
The Alexander Foundation is a Dutch non-profit research institute on youth participation and participatory youth research in the fields welfare, care, health, education, employment, youth policies, arts & culture. Since 1993, the Alexander Foundation has been developing and implementing participatory youth research projects as well as training and coaching programmes for children, young people, professionals and youth policy officials. Research projects, similar to the one described in this article have been conducted in different cities, towns and villages across the Netherlands.