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Migration has been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time, and populations have always moved in search of resources and better conditions. Today, unaccompanied children and youth are an integral part of national and global migration patterns, often leaving their place of origin due to violence, conflict, abuse, or other rights violations, or simply to seek better opportunities for themselves.

It is estimated that 33 million (or some 16 percent) of the total migrant population today is younger than age 
20. Child and adolescent migrants make up a significant proportion of the total population of migrants in Africa (28 percent), Asia (21 percent), Oceania (11 percent), Europe (11 percent), and the Americas (10 percent).

The issue of migration is central to the current political debate as well as to the development discussion, especially in conversations about the “post 2015” agenda. Though many organizations are working to improve children’s well-being in their home communities, prevention work with children and youth is not likely to end migration. Civil society organizations, together with children and youth, government, community members, and other stakeholders can help make migration safer and more productive for those young people who do end up on the move.

As the debate around migration rages, access to and use of ICTs is expanding exponentially around the globe. For this reason Plan International USA and the Oak Foundation felt it was an opportune time to take stock of the ways that ICTs are being used in the child and youth migration process.

Our new report, “Modern Mobility: the role of ICTs in child and youth migration” takes a look at:

  • how children and youth are using ICTs to prepare for migration; to guide and facilitate their journey; to keep in touch with families; to connect with opportunities for support and work; and to cope with integration, forced repatriation or continued movement; and
  • how civil society organizations are using ICTs to facilitate and manage their work; to support children and youth on the move; and to communicate and advocate for the rights of child and youth migrants.

In the Modern Mobility paper, we identify and provide examples of three core ways that child and youth migrants are using new ICTs during the different phases of the migration process:

  1. for communicating and connecting with families and friends
  2. for accessing information
  3. for accessing services

We then outline seven areas where we found CSOs are using ICTs in their work with child and youth migrants, and we offer some examples:

Ways that CSOs are using ICTs in their work with child and youth migrants.

Ways that CSOs are using ICTs in their work with child and youth migrants.

Though we were able to identify some major trends in how children and youth themselves use ICTs and how organizations are experimenting with ICTs in programming, we found little information on the impact that ICTs and ICT-enabled programs and services have on migrating children and youth, whether positive or negative. Most CSO practitioners that we talked with said that they had very little awareness of how other organizations or initiatives similar to their own were using ICTs. Most also said they did not know where to find orientation or guidance on good practice in the use of ICTs in child-centered programming, ICTs in protection work (aside from protecting children from online risks), or use of ICTs in work with children and young people at various stages of migration. Most CSO practitioners we spoke with were interested in learning more, sharing experiences, and improving their capacities to use ICTs in their work.

Based on Plan Finland’s “ICT-Enabled Development Guide” (authored by Hannah Beardon), the Modern Mobility report provides CSOs with a checklist to support thinking around the strategic use of ICTs in general.

ICT-enabled development checklist developed by Hannah Beardon for Plan International.

ICT-enabled development checklist developed by Hannah Beardon for Plan International.

We also offer a list of key considerations for practitioners who wish to incorporate new technologies into their work, including core questions to ask about access, age, capacity, conflict, connectivity, cost, disability, economic status, electricity, existing information ecosystems, gender, information literacy, language, literacy, power, protection, privacy, sustainability, and user-involvement.

Our recommendation for taking this area forward is to develop greater awareness and capacity among CSOs regarding the potential uses and risks of ICTs in work with children and youth on the move by:

  1. Establishing an active community of practice on ICTs and children and youth on the move.
  2. Mapping and sharing existing projects and programs.
  3. Creating a guide or toolbox on good practice for ICTs in work with children and youth on the move.
  4. Further providing guidance on how ICTs can help “normal” programs to reach out to and include children and youth on the move.
  5. Further documentation and development of an evidence base.
  6. Sharing and distributing this report for discussion and action.

Download the Modern Mobility report here.

We’d love comments and feedback, and information about examples or documentation/evidence that we did not come across while writing the report!

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As part of their efforts to reduce violence against children, Plan Benin is rallying motorcycle-taxi drivers to use SMS to report violence against children that they witness in the streets.

Florence Cisse, Plan West Africa’s regional communications officer, says:

The Zemidjan or “Zem” swarm the streets of Cotonou like bees. They are everywhere; silent observers to all comings and goings. Now, they have received training on how to recognize cases of child trafficking or kidnapping which often occur on the same busy streets. Using SMS texting on their mobile phones, they send information which is tracked and mapped by Plan using Ushahidi, an open source web-based technology platform. Plan then alerts authorities through partnerships with the Benin Central Office of Child Protection and ministries of Family, of Home Affairs and of Justice who begin the process of retrieving the children or investigating the abuse.

“The Zem are always working on the streets, which is where children experience the greatest risk,” said Michel Kanhonou Plan Benin Programme Manager. “The use of Ushahidi to track SMS texts and map the incidents of violence has helped to inform the authorities where, block by block, they need to invest greater resources to keep our children safe.”

The Zem join youth, heads of police squads, community and religious leaders and others who have received the training on how to recognize abuse and report it through simple SMS from Plan. Plan promotes a phone number that is used to collect the SMS on billboards and radio programmes.

This is the kind of innovation I think is most interesting – identifying existing networks and systems, and seeing how to enhance or expand them via new technologies. I’m looking forward to seeing how the program advances, and what Plan Benin learns from this effort to engage broader networks in preventing, tracking and responding to violence against children.

The team in Benin has created a video about the violence reporting system, which uses both FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. The technology tools, however, are only part of the program. In addition, the team launched billboard and community radio campaigns to promote the violence-reporting number; engaged local communities, government, child protection agents, and NGOs; and trained children, families, teachers, school directors, parents and community leaders (and now moto-taxi drivers!) about violence, its impact on children and how to respond to it. Children and young people have been involved in program design and implementation as well, and there have been thorough discussions on how to manage this type of sensitive information in a private and secure way.

For some older posts that demonstrate the evolution of the project, which started off in early 2010, click here.

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Learning to use a computer in Inhambane, Mozambique

Learning to use a computer in Inhambane, Mozambique

This is a slightly longer version of my Empowering Girls through Information, Communication and Technology, published in The Guardian’s Development Professional’s Network. A full article called “Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?” was published in Redress, the Journal of the Association of Women Educators (Vol 21, No. 2, August 2012, pp 23-29.)

“Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?”

This is the type of taunt a girl might hear when trying to sit in front of one of the computers at the school’s lab, said Fabiola, a young woman from Cameroon while speaking on a panel about girls, education, and new technologies at the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Fabiola was invited to the CSW to speak about her personal experiences as a girl studying a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Fabiola went on to share how her parents had been instrumental in encouraging her to pursue her studies, even though she was one of few girls who decided to go down the STEM path.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be quite aware that there has been an increasing emphasis in the development sector on girls and ICTs over the past few years. Everyone from large government donors to NGOs to the private sector is banking on girls and technologies, especially mobile phones, to play a big role in helping resolve poverty and make development gains.

Girls themselves consider ICTs to be a major element in their personal growth and development, useful for improving studies, staying informed and earning a living. Girls say that ICTs help them reduce their sense of isolation, acquire new skills, actively participate in national and global dialogues, learn about taboo subjects (such as reproductive health and HIV), feel safer and more in touch with family and friends, and strengthen self-esteem. They often credit participatory media and technology programs with helping them improve their ability to express themselves, speak in public, and to dialogue with adults and other decision makers to negotiate their needs and rights.

But what about access?

The flip side is that for many girls, access to and use of ICTs is a huge challenge. Gender discrimination, lack of confidence, not speaking a major language, low literacy, lack of time and money, and restricted mobility (due to cultural factors or safety) often prevent girls from taking advantage of the benefits of ICTs.

Despite the positive trend in mobile phone and Internet access worldwide, access is often characterized in terms of broad economics, eg., ‘developing’ vs ‘developed’ countries, or it is analyzed at the country level: eg., Kenya vs Mozambique. Analysis needs to go much deeper, however, to include individual factors like class and wealth status, gender, geographic location, age, disability, literacy, language, and device ownership.

Girls living in the same geographic area may have very different levels of access. An English-speaking Kenyan girl living in an urban high rise with her upper class parents will have more access to ICTs than a non-English speaking Kenyan girl with low literacy levels who works long hours cleaning that same apartment and lives in a slum area nearby. The mobile phone ownership capacity of the daughter of a relatively wealthy community leader who owns a small local business will be greater than that of the daughter of one of the poorest families in the same village.

Gender discrimination also comes into play, and in places where men and boys dominate women and girls, they also tend to dominate the available ICTs.  In places where boys are more favored, their confidence to try new things will tend to be higher. Girls often report that boys hog and monopolize ICT equipment and that they criticize, scorn and ridicule girls who are using equipment for the first time, making girls feel too timid to try again.

How can development agencies help girls overcome these barriers?

1)   Keep working to address underlying causes

If girls and women continue to live in greater poverty, with lower education levels, less access to healthcare and other services, less opportunity to work, and lower status in their societies, chances are that their access to and use of ICTs will not level out to that of boys and men.

Getting more girls into school and improving the quality of education could help more girls access and learn to use ICTs. Finding ways to encourage critical thinking and innovation within the education system and ways for girls to join in extra-curricular activities to stimulate new ways of thinking might also help more girls to build the skills and mindsets necessary to enter into the growing number of jobs in the ICT sector.

Advocating for and supporting policies that make Internet more accessible and affordable overall is another area where INGOs can play a role. Libraries and other safe spaces can also help girls and women feel more comfortable and able to access information and learn how to use ICTs.

2) Help change mentalities

A shift in thinking is needed in order to stimulate behavior change that is more conducive to girls participating fully in their family and communities as well as at broader levels. Girls need to be seen as people who can and should take advantage of the potential of ICTs, but they cannot create this shift in thinking on their own. Broad and deep legal, attitudinal and behavior changes need to happen in families, communities, institutions and society in general.

Organizations should engage men and boys as allies in this process. When fathers and male peers are aware, engaged and supportive of girls’ development and girls’ rights, they play a very strong role in changing broader norms and perceptions.

Female role models can also help change mentalities. Having a device or new technology in their possession can increase the status and strength of girls and women as role models and enable them to carry out different and important roles in the community.

3) Offer opportunities

In the short-term, offering specific and accompanied support and opportunities for girls to access and take advantage of ICTs can help fill some of the gaps mentioned above. ICTs can be incredible tools for engaging students in the classroom, making teaching methodologies more participatory, encouraging student-led research and building critical media and digital literacy skills in the process. In places where textbooks are old and outdated, the Internet can offer ways to connect with current events and up-to-date research.

Adding gadgets to the classroom experience involves more than just having the latest digital devices; however, and careful thought needs to be given to the teaching goals, desired outcomes, and issues like relevance and sustainability before deciding on tools and devices.

Special care needs to be taken to ensure that in these controlled spaces, girls have equal access to equipment. Where ICTs cannot be integrated into the classroom or where girls are not in school, non-formal education and extra-curricular activities can give girls a chance to interact with ICTs.

ICTs do hold much promise, yet access for girls remains a challenge. The NGO sector can play a role by addressing underlying causes of gender discrimination and gendered poverty, helping change mentalities, and supporting greater opportunities for girls. For more on ways that INGOs and educators can support girls access and effective use of ICTs, see “Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you’ll be holding a baby’s napkin?”

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Over the next year, I’ll be working on some research supported by Oak Foundation* that will look at the intersection of ICTs and children who migrate, a.k.a. ‘Children on the Move.’ As part of the research, we will be conducting a Twitter chat on Tuesday, August 14, at 9h EST and an ongoing online discussion hosted by New Tactics from October 17 through 23.

I hope interested folks will join to share experiences, good practice, challenges, thoughts and ideas on the intersection of ICTs and Children on the Move.

Background

Globally, some 214 million persons are international migrants. In addition, there are an estimated 740 million internal migrants according to the Global Movement for Children. Youth make up a large share of migrants from and in developing countries. Shifts in demographic factors, economic disparity, violent conflict and state failure, natural disasters, resource and environmental pressures, especially climate change, and lack of opportunities for education or employment mean that this number is likely to increase. About one-third of migrants from developing countries are between the ages of 12 and 25, including millions of children under the age of 18. (Stats from here.) “Yet, in debates on both child protection and migration, children who move are largely invisible. As a result, policy responses to support these vulnerable children are fragmented and inconsistent.”

Drawing from the African Movement of Working Children and Youth’s report “Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made?” Sept 2008

‘Children on the Move’

Children migrate and move for a host of reasons. They may move on their own will to seek improved opportunities. They may be escaping violence and abuse in the home or at school or running away from an arranged marriage or other cultural practice. They may move due to a lack of opportunity, reduced resources, conflict, or disaster. They may want to get away from life in a refugee camp, or flee other kinds of hardship. They might migrate together with parents or other adults, or they may go alone or with others their age. The migration decision may be made by children themselves, or they may be encouraged by their parents.

In the past, the phenomenon of child mobility has not been seen in its full scope. Children who migrated were often automatically lumped in with those who were trafficked against their will. Programs to support children on the move have not always addressed the variety of motivations and situations. This lack of understanding of the myriad of reasons for children’s mobility has hindered efforts to support and protect them in their different scenarios. More recently efforts have been made to better understand children’s mobility, for example this fascinating 2008-2010 regional study project, supported by a broad platform of child protection agencies, documented and analyzed the many forms taken by the mobility of children and youths in West and Central Africa.

The term ‘Children on the Move‘ has been suggested to describe this group of children under the age of 18 who have aims, motivations and different life circumstances. This is a group which transcends categories. These children may be in a ‘pre-mobility, mobility or post-mobility’ situation (either having arrived to a destination or having returned home). They may also be ‘children left behind’ by their parents or guardians, who, without abandoning them, have emigrated for work within their country of residence or abroad. They may be stateless children, who also suffer the risks and vulnerabilities of mobility.

Risks Children on the Move face

When children move against their will, and /or in absence of protection services and actors, they become highly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, exploitation and other abuses. This vulnerability is present before they move, during their trip, once they reach a new destination or even after they return home, and therefore support and protection need to be considered from the time they are thinking about moving (or others are thinking about moving them), through the actual migration or ‘move’, upon their arrival, and in the case of their return. In addition, some children may be involved in a series of migrations or they may migrate seasonally. “During movement, a child can float from one sub category to the other. For example, an internally displaced child can be recruited by armed forces or moved across borders for the purpose of exploitation. The risks and opportunities differ per trajectory and conditions of movement,” according to the CoM website.

Captured from “Best practices in the fight against early exodus and child trafficking” as printed in the African Movement of Working Children and Youth’s “Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made?” report, Sept 2008.

Children who migrate often face discrimination and marginalization due to beliefs and policies that treat migration as a problem and children who migrate as criminals, and therefore a great deal of work needs to be done to change perceptions and increase societal awareness around the situation of children on the move. Protecting children and reducing their risk of exploitation is a mandate, regardless of the reasons for which they move or migrate.

A systemic approach to protection

In order to improve support for and protection of children on the move, it’s important to look at the situation holistically and systemically and to include the aforementioned different phases of mobility. In addition, several areas need consideration, including children’s own needs and rights; children’s self-protection; community-based protection; government responsibilities and social services; advocacy and public policy and so on. Duty bearers and donors need to improve coordination across silos and borders in order to get better at information exchange, research and data analysis; the creation of prevention and awareness strategies and programs; monitoring actions during all stages; and feedback mechanisms and accountability. (See the proceedings from the CoM Conference for more details.)

How can ICTs help?

Alongside the growth in children’s mobility, access to new technologies, specifically the mobile phone, has exploded. Yet most often, when child protection and ICTs are mentioned in the same sentence, it is with regard to cyber security and protecting children from the Internet or potential on-line predators.

ICTs are playing a huge role in connecting diaspora with those ‘back home.’  The question arises: How are or how could ICTs be enhancing child protection initiatives and supporting children on the move.

The positive and empowering role of ICTs to support children’s self-protection, improve information and communication via new technology tools and enhance systemic approaches to risk reduction has not been fully developed with regard to child protection in its broader sense, or with regard to child mobility and child protection.

The research 

The research will aim to compile a ‘State of the Practice’ report that will include examples and case studies of current ICT use by, with, among and for CoM; applicable cases and lessons learned from other sectors; gaps, challenges, areas where ICTs may pose new or additional risk; and remaining questions and challenges for future exploration and collaboration.

Certainly new questions, frameworks and areas to explore will arise along the way, but at present, questions include:

  • What needs do children have in different categories and stages of mobility and how are these being (or how could they be) enhanced via better use of new ICTs?
  • Which new technologies are already accessible and being used by various stakeholders (e.g. children, parents and caretakers, intermediaries, broader communities, local child protection committees and ‘safe houses’, local institutions, social workers, experts, civil servants, governments, national and international NGOs, local and national law enforcement agencies), especially children, adolescents and youth; during pre-mobility, mobility and post-mobility, and upon return, endogenous or institutional, and for what purpose or to what end?
  • What information and communication systems are currently in use at child and family, community, district, national, transnational /regional and global levels for supporting or protecting children on the move and can these systems be improved, promoted or better accessed using new ICTs such as mobile phones?
  • Are there existing scalable, replicable or adaptable examples of the use of ICTs in this area we can learn from? What were the successes, challenges, failures and lessons/good practices?
  • Can new ICTs support communication for development (C4D) approaches and models to help children on the move protect themselves, inform them of available support, and/or change broader societal attitudes toward migrating children to more positive and supportive ones?
  • What can we learn from how ICTs are being used in other areas (health, human rights monitoring, data gathering / tracking, early warning systems, disasters and emergencies)? Which of these might lend themselves to use with, for, among and by children on the move? Are there relevant evaluations or case studies we can look at and learn from?
  • What are the specific challenges and risks in terms of children on the move that need special attention and exploration when designing programs or eco-systems that integrate ICTs? Security? Privacy? Connectivity? Cost? Context? Sustainability? Feasibility?
  • Where do we take it from here (what needs to happen next)?

Please join us for the Twitter chat on August 14 at 9 a.m. EST.  We’ll be using the hashtag #CoMandICT for the discussion and to keep track of future Twitter conversations on this topic. Stay tuned here at Wait… What? or contact me @meowtree or by email for more information.

Please also consider joining the broader discussion on “Empowering Communities with Technology Tools to Protect Children” the week of October 17-23 hosted by our friends over at New Tactics.

Some related resources:

The excellent 2008 report by the African Movement of Working Children and Youth: Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made? 

The AMWCY’s 2009 report “From the gong gong to ICTs

The fascinating study by a consortium of child protection groups on Child Mobility in West and Central Africa.

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*This work is supported through a grant from Oak Foundation to Plan International USA.

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Youth map toilets in Mathare. (From Map Kibera's Blog)

I first heard about Map Kibera quite awhile ago. Looking through old blog posts, I’m thinking it’s been about 2 years. Somehow, probably through blogs and Twitter, we connected and made plans to work together on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project that I was coordinating and where we (Plan) had been wanting to use digital mapping but didn’t have a clear understanding of how to do it technically.

Around the same time, Plan’s program team in Kenya was connecting with Map Kibera through the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), where Robert Chambers (the guru/godfather/grandfather of participatory rural development approaches) and co. were also thinking about how digital mapping fits into participatory development. Sammy Musyoki, Plan Kenya’s program support manager who is also affiliated with IDS, was already engaged in some work around the use of mobiles in community led total sanitation (CLTS) work. In November 2010, Map Kibera became part of a research project, where Sammy and Evangelia Berdou (also from IDS) began looking at “the challenges faced when applying the methodologies of participatory technologies to participatory development and aid.”

Importantly, the research is not ‘extractive,’ research, eg, the researchers are not coming into Kibera to pull information out and leave, publishing their work for academic circles and never bringing the insights back to the community for discussion and interpretation.

As Map Kibera Trust co-founder Mikel Maron wrote, “With IDS, all of the interviews and meetings were facilitated by Sammy, leading up to a gathering of everyone to reflect on the results. This was incredibly valuable for everyone to share their perspectives and understand others. We thought of it as Group Therapy.” (Note: the posts written during the research are collected here - more good reading.)

He continues, “Additionally, we organized an amazing inquiry led learning session with Aptivate, which contributes to creating a guide-book for future trainings.” (Note: I was following the Twitter stream during the sessions that Aptivate conducted, and I highly suggest checking this organization out.)

While the research was taking off, Plan Kenya and Map Kibera also started working together on both the YETAM project as well as on a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program in Mathare.

The learning from the IDS research, together with Plan and Aptivate’s input around facilitating participatory development approaches meant that the Mathare project started off differently than the Kibera project did. The approach was a bit slower, and started by really engaging the community. As Jamie Lundine (current director of Map Kibera Trust) writes in her post Whose Map, “Map Kibera did not begin as a participatory development project. The initial project was an attempt to introduce open source technology – namely, OpenStreetMap – into a community that had previously not had a publicly accessible map (for all intents and purposes it was “unmapped”). Initial mapping of Kibera was done quickly (in 3 weeks) and local leaders, including administration were consulted but not necessarily engaged in the process.” The quick growth of the project was partly fueled by interest and support from the international community due to the innovative nature of the project, rather than by demand from the community for a rapid implementation.

She continues in the post to describe the participatory process that was used in Mathare – eg., lots of meetings, discussions and participation and offline activity before any mapping even started. The approach in Mathare was to really engage the community and local organizations and structures from the outset, and to “lead from behind”. One of the neat results from this approach is the fantastic Mathare Valley Blog, set up and maintained by the youth, and a great place to go to hear about what’s happening in Mathere directly from residents.

From Jamie’s post New Media in Mathare:

“To provide the participants with some ideas about other options in terms of new media, some basic training on the use of the Ushahidi Voice of Mathare platform was provided to some of the Map Mathare project participants. The Voice of Kibera team conducted a number of hands-on trainings with 8-10 Mathare participants. The participants were interested in the platform and learning from the experience of the Voice of Kibera members, but did not take-up the software as we saw in Kibera. We therefore agreed to provide technical support for the blogging platform as a central online information focal point for the Map Mathare initiative. We were careful not to impose the original ideas of New Media in Mathare and have adhered to the original methodology agreed upon by the team with support from Plan Kenya and CCS. This was a community driven approach from which the technical and coordination team “leads from behind”. We are and continue to be flexible when it comes to programming in Mathare.”

Map Kibera has worked with a broader group of Plan Kenya staff also to build capacity around participatory mapping so that various on-line and off-line mapping tools could be considered in Plan Kenya’s future efforts, for example, these suggestions by the Plan Kenya staff: mapping and identifying the hot spots of child abuse, use of SMS for communication with hearing and speech impaired within the community, using reports and sharing the same information to various media channels, program monitoring, a governance tool for enhancing social accountability as well as tracking projects, involving children in participatory community mapping, using blogging as a tool for youth to document governance issues, and to document and share participatory activities that Plan already undertakes, such  as transect walks and participatory situational analyses.

Map of toilets, water points and open defecation areas in Mathare. (from Map Kibera's blog)

Today, almost 2 years after our “first contact”, Jamie wrote a motivating post that highlights how things can work when development, technology, academia, communities and local partners work together openly.

“Mapping the sanitation in situation in Mathare has been a process of continual learning. When we began the Map Mathare pilot project in December 2010, we employed a dynamic methodology to engage young people and the community issues in the approximately 20 villages in Mathare. My colleague Primoz and I worked closely with the Plan Kenya team to design a training programme and over the past 8 months, have learned a great deal about working with youth and communities to “make the invisible visible” that is – to document tacit knowledge and turn the experience of communities and young people into information that translates across social and geographic boundaries.”

Through these collaborations, everyone benefits and learns. Plan is learning how to support communities to use new technologies in community development work. Plan staff is also developing capacity to innovate in Plan’s work by becoming more familiar with different technology tools and ways of working. Through blogging and sharing and face-to-face meetings, this learning is making its way through the organization, touching on a variety of levels, sparking slow and steady changes in how a huge organization operates. The Map Kibera team is learning more about participatory methodologies in development, which carries into their work and how they talk about their work also. IDS is learning how the two mix, and offering an academic overview within theoretical frameworks and advancing the field of knowledge around participation technology and participatory development. The community benefits by being fully engaged in a process that has positive and lasting impact.

Jamie writes:

“The team of mappers, videographers and bloggers– now about 15 in number – who have stuck with us since December of last year, can really tell you what empowerment means to them. Not only have they put themselves and their community on the map – a process that evokes a great sense of pride and responsibility. Some of the young people did not know how to read a map before…. 

Putting yourself on the map is the first step toward demanding recognition and everything that comes along with it – including basic human rights (the right to a clean living environment, the right to health) and by extension – the right to access services provided to the rest of Nairobi. Through our programme, young people are given the chance to represent their community through the medium of a map. Standard GIS symbols break down the barriers that separate youth and elders – rich and poor – and allow these young people to express themselves on a level playing field. Looking at the maps,  who would know they were generated by youth from the informal settlements?”

This is a good example of various disciplines and sectors working together with youth and community members to take an initiative forward in a very positive way.

It’s proof that coordination, cooperation and bridging across all these areas is not only possible, it is vital if efforts are to be of any real and sustained impact.

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Where are the spaces for youth participatory governance?

‘People no longer rely on governments alone to improve governance. All over the world we are seeing experiments in ‘participatory governance’. People and organisations are grasping the opportunities offered by decentralisation and other reform processes to demand more of a say in the public policy and budget processes that affect them. These ways of holding the state to account are often called ‘social accountability’. Examples include participatory budgeting, monitoring electoral processes, using online and mobile technology, and citizen evaluation of public services. These forms of citizen engagement and social accountability are particularly promising for young people, who often face challenges in getting their voices heard in formal policy and governance processes.’

The ‘youth bulge‘ is impacting or will impact hugely in many countries in Africa, but there is limited documentation on youth involvement in social accountability processes in Sub-Saharan African countries. Youth and governance efforts have been ‘largely unsystematic and often constrained by the vague and paternalistic parameters of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (McGee, forthcoming 2010). However this is changing and there are calls for new models, tools and approaches that enable young people to take a more meaningful role in decision-making.’ (call for submissions for the upcoming Participatory Learning and Action Journal (PLA) special issue on Youth and Participatory Governance).

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In March I attended a “writeshop” put on by Plan UK, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) to share different youth participatory governance initiatives, reflect on challenges and successes therein, learn how to write better, and finalize articles on the above topic for a PLA Special Issue in December 2011. The special issue will highlight some of the different ways young people are engaging with government to participate in public policy, planning and budgeting processes at local, national, regional, and international levels. Practitioners, youth and government officials from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Lesotho, the US, the UK, Ghana, Germany and Liberia attended the writeshop. (The PLA will also have articles from Cameroon and Somalia).

The first day we did a cool exercise revolving around 4 statements on voice, youth, participation, and governance. I learned a lot from the discussion and I wanted to share it here.

So, what do you think? and why?

Statement 1. The author’s voice will always be louder than the voices of the people he/she is writing about.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly Disagree ___

Statement 2. Increased transparency leads to increased accountability.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly disagree ___

Statement 3. It is possible to do governance work without engaging in politics.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly disagree ___

Statement 4. Citizen led/social accountability processes offer more potential for youth than traditional accountability processes.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly disagree ___

****

Here’s what we discussed at the writeshop. I’d be interested in what you think about the statements too…

Statement 1. The author’s voice will always be louder than the voices of the people he/she is writing about:

Discussion: The group mostly concluded that it’s difficult for the author’s voice to stay in the background – it will inevitably jump out and become stronger than the voice of those he or she is writing about.

‘Regardless of that, the author has been given an opportunity to project the voices of those that don’t have a platform to speak for themselves, so he or she should take advantage of the opportunity.’

‘Just by choosing what goes into the piece, the writer is already showing some type of bias. One or the other idea or opinion will be louder than the others because it serves the author’s own purpose.’

‘Writers need to think carefully about their approaches as authors and be self-aware of what biases are coming through in their pieces. This is an issue of credibility.’

‘One thing to aim for in our work with youth is finding more opportunities for them to author their own stories, because they can speak louder and stay true to their own agendas.’

‘How many of us here sat down and wrote our submissions together with youth? What are some methodologies that we can use to ensure that youth are writing about their own work, rather than always being written about?’

Note: Some methods for involving youth in the writing process will be covered in the upcoming Special Issue, based on experiences from the group attending the writeshop.

Statement 2. Increased transparency leads to increased accountability.

Discussion: Most everyone disagreed with this statement, saying that there is no causal relationship between transparency and accountability.

‘Many civil society and faith-based organizations really engage citizens, but if you look deeply, that engagement hasn’t translated into accountability.’

‘Including people in governance and keeping them informed about what is happening can lead to accountability. People will start to take responsibility, report about actions. If they are involved, included and informed they will start to question things.’

‘There is not always a causal link between transparency and accountability.’

‘Having transparent information is one thing, but accountability is what you actually do with the information. Having the habit of discussion, questioning is one thing, but ensuring that feedback is actually taken into consideration is another.’

‘Often those in power say “we’ve heard” but they don’t do anything to change. Accountability isn’t only about voice, you need to have opportunities for redress.’

‘Without transparency there is no accountability. This can mean access to information. We need legislation to make access to information possible. It’s a pre-requisite for increased accountability.’

‘There are NGO and donor accountability issues also. Just because NGOs or donors put information on-line doesn’t mean that they are being accountable. There is the issue of literacy, of whether people seek out information, of access to the information in a variety of languages, of what format the information is shared in and the sheer quantity of information. Who really has access to the information they are sharing? Can those who are supposed to be benefiting from NGOs and donors programs access the information?’

‘Another thing is making people and institutions understand why they should be held to account, why they need to be accountable, changing mindsets about why leaders and power holders need to be accountable.’

‘Flooding people with information so that people don’t know where to look for what is relevant to them or posting the information on-line, in a language that isn’t useful to them, is not really being transparent. Often calls for transparency don’t really go far enough. Transparency is about making the information usable and about information demand.’

One of our facilitators (Rosemary McGee from IDS) pointed us to Jonathan Fox at UCLA who says:

‘Transparency can be ‘opaque’ (the dissemination of information that does not reveal how institutions actually behave) or ‘clear’ (access to reliable information about institutional behaviour). Accountability can be ‘soft’ (‘answerability’ – demanding answers from duty-bearers) or ‘hard’ (answers plus consequences). Information dissemination does not automatically lead to answerability, nor answerability to the possibility of sanctions. If access to information is to guarantee the sanctions that hard accountability requires, public sector as well as civil society actors must intervene.’

Statement 3. It is possible to do governance work without engaging in politics.

Discussion: The group was pretty evenly divided between strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree, so the discussion was really interesting.

‘I strongly disagree because government is about service delivery and politics is about the opinions of the people. Everyone is a political animal. There is a difference between politics and partisan politics, though.’

‘Every action has a vision and a political orientation. You can’t change a situation without being involved in politics.’

‘Governance has nothing to do with politics; the government can be left or right; but governance means the same thing. It’s being transparent and accountable to the people; and it’s also about including other stakeholders, NGOs, private sector and responding to the citizens needs. Governance is impartial and non political.’

‘Governance is about how power is exercised. It’s about certain practices and systems – in state, family, community, etc. If you are challenging power, whether policy change or change in practice, whether it’s gender or whatever, you want to address unjust power relations, so at some point you need to confront the polity of those structures. However being engaged in governance is not about partisan politics. There’s a difference between a political party and the issue of politics. If I say I’m in solidarity with children, I’ve taken a political position. Political parties are about obtaining power. But governance is about challenging power relationships.’

‘We need to distinguish “governance and politics” and “party politics.” It’s difficult to say that things will naturally happen based on a structure. But the structures will adjust, they will be used differently according to who is in power. You need to know politics and the opinions of political leaders in order to effectively get your agenda through. You need to understand the political dynamics in terms of what happens in the country, what is the ideology, what is their strategy and what are their plans. If you don’t understand that, you can’t address the issues that you are trying to resolve via governance.’

‘It’s not possible to work on governance and not engage in politics. I work in government. Our mandate ends after 5 yrs. We must go back to elections and the people must give us the mandate again to exercise power on their behalf. This is the only clear mechanism whereby the people can engage in politics. Politics is about opinions and perceptions. People have diverging opinions, those opinions will create debate and that leads to political actions. Whenever there is a debate involved about something, that is politics. It’s not easy to exercise power without debate. To give services to people, to exercise power on their behalf, it’s not easy if you don’t take into consideration the opinions coming from them, they need to debate and the debate then needs to be translated into policies.’

‘The people who are most engaged in governance should not be politically engaged. When you work from civil society on governance issues, you should not have a party affiliation. Because then you will carry a bias. To do good governance work you need to be impartial and unaffiliated with a party, or people will consider you to be biased.’

‘If we look at governance and politics, politics is just a subset of governance. There are actually lots of issues under governance. In governance we expect everyone to take part in how things are governed. We see different political actors. Governance encompasses more than politics, it’s above politics.’

Statement 4. Citizen led / social accountability processes offer more potential for youth than traditional accountability processes.

Discussion: Everyone sat on the strongly agree or agree side of this debate.

‘Citizen led processes offer much more openness to youth.’

‘We need to define citizen-led and traditional accountability processes. Citizen led, social accountability processes are where those spaces are claimed by citizens themselves. Secondly the citizen-led social accountability process tends to be less vertical. There is collectivization of the aspirations of the people who are supposed to benefit from a service or a process. The power relationships are much fairer in that situation. Traditional accountability is like something done within government, something led by World Bank or the IMF. In that case, the state creates space for citizens to participate, information is shared but there is actually not much action taking and questioning because it is the state itself running the accountability initiative on its own behalf. But with social accountability, it’s driven and led by people, by civil society, and there is more questioning and participation.’

‘I was being ethnocentric and thinking as a Westerner about “traditional” as meaning “government and voting,” but I’m realizing that there is a range of understandings of “traditional accountability” processes.’

‘If there is a mainstream more traditional accountability process vs a parallel citizen led process it can be confusing. Often youth are not clear how to link the parallel transparency and accountability that they are creating up to the official structures. There is a lack of connection there. Youth get a lot out of the processes individually, but are they also increasing state accountability?  There is also the concept of traditional accountability. Traditionally led accountability comes from many sides.’

‘There are formal and informal politics. What does it all mean? Based on all of your submissions, we would like to be able to start giving some definitions and an “OK” on all these terms and interpretations. There is a gap in understanding on social accountability, citizen-led accountability and the role of young people in these processes. That is why we wanted to do this PLA Journal.’

****

Look for the PLA Special Edition coming out on paper and on-line in December 2011. In the meantime, check out the current editions here, including PLA 59: Change at Hand – Web 2.0 for Development and PLA 54: Mapping for Change – Practice, Technologies and Communication.

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The 55th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) happens in New York City Feb 21-25, 2011. For me, the most exciting thing about the event is that several girls from some of the countries where we are working (Canada, US, Finland, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Indonesia) will be participating and speaking. This aspect of our work – helping to bring young people’s voices into these large influential forums – (when done properly) can be very effective at bringing a reality check to the ivory tower and helping influence decision makers at the very highest levels.

This year’s CSW is especially interesting to me since I work in the area of ICTs, and the theme of the CSW is:

“Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”

The girls will be presenting at the Girls Take the Stage: Growing up in a Digital World on Feb 22nd:

I’ll be presenting with Fabiola from Cameroon at the Empowering Girls: Education and Technology” session on February 23.

I’ll also talk at a panel-workshop hosted by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation on Tuesday Feb 22, from 10-11.30, called “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty of Women and Girls through Education and Training,” on the 2nd floor room of the CCUN (Church Center of the UN).

Update: Ika one of the girls from Indonesia, will speak at a panel on Commercial Sexual Exploitation and the Girl Child: A Human Rights Approach at the Main Auditorium, Salvation Army Social Justice Center, 221 East 52nd St between 2nd and 3rd Ave, on Feb 24th from 2-3.30 pm.

Update: Lil Shira from Cameroon will present on Violence and Discrimination against Girls in School, along with Marta Santos Pais (UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence against Children) and others on Feb 22, from 16-17.30 at UN Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, Drew Room, Ground Floor.

Join us at the some of the sessions or come for an evening with the 21+ crowd at #ICT4Drinks Feb 23rd at 6 pm at Me Bar.

We’re trying to interest the girls in tweeting during the CSW on the @plan_youth account and to blog at  http://plan_youth.tumblr.com, so check it out as of this Monday. (We’ll see if they are willing or not!)

You can follow the events on Twitter at the hashtag #CSW55.

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There’s a new Youth and Participatory Governance initiative that I’m going to be supporting from the social media and ICT side, and I’m really excited about.

My colleague Jess in our UK Office gives an overview:

Plan UK is working with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) to produce a Special Issue of the journal Participatory Learning Action (PLA) focusing on Youth and Participatory Governance in Africa. The Special Issue will capture and share experiences of the different ways young people in African countries are engaging with government to participate in public policy, planning and budgeting processes at local, national, regional, and international levels.

Key details about the Special Issue:

  • What is the theme? Contributions should capture practical experiences of governance work involving youth. Contributions should include: the processes young people have been engaged in; innovations, achievements and challenges; lessons and ways forward. Each article should be around 2,500 words. (Note: this includes innovative ways that youth are engaging with support of ICTs.)
  • Who can contribute? We are seeking submissions from adults and young people working in the field of youth and governance who would like to contribute an article to this Special Issue. You might be a youth activist, a practitioner from an NGO or international agency, or a member of government, for example.
  • How will contributors be supported? Support will be provided to contributors throughout the drafting process, including a writing workshop (a ‘writeshop’) in Nairobi in March next year during which contributors will receive one-to-one support and meet with others working on participatory governance to discuss and share their experiences
  • When do articles need to be written? Anybody interested in contributing needs to submit a 500 word summary by December 5th. Articles will be selected in December. Authors will submit a first draft of their article in February 2011 and, after further drafting, a final draft in June/July 2011.

Download further information on the Special Issue and the PLA journal here. Download the Call for Proposals here if you think you’d like to submit something or to support youth you are working with to submit.

Why I’m excited about being involved…

I had the chance to talk with Jess (the project coordinator) at Plan UK about my role last week. I’ll be supporting with dissemination (starting here with this post) to help get as many good submissions as possible. I’ll also be reviewing submissions that have ICT components to them; supporting participating youth with writing drafts and at the writeshop in Nairobi this March; and looking at how we can use social media to support the initiative throughout.

I’m really happy to be involved because this is something I want to dig into into and the process will offer a chance to learn about methodological innovations in this area that can be replicated and shared within some of the other programs I’m supporting. I also love that young people are encouraged to submit ideas for the journal and that they will be involved in writing and documenting their experiences. Sometimes their voices are really missing in these debates because they are not in the habit or don’t have time to write and document their work, or because of other factors like language or access. (And we all know that if it’s not on the Internet, to many of us it ‘doesn’t exist’).

To be honest, I’m also excited because it will give me a ton of new stuff to share here, and maybe during the process we’ll be successful in getting some more young people and practitioners blogging.

Another reason I’m keen to participate was this bit in the concept note: Youth and governance efforts have been ‘largely unsystematic and often constrained by the vague and paternalistic parameters of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (McGee, forthcoming 2010). However this is changing and there are calls for new models, tools and approaches that enable young people to take a more meaningful role in decision-making.’ Looking forward to the discussions around that.

Submit a concept!

If you are working on programs around youth and governance, youth and transparency, youth and accountability and related areas or know of young people or young people’s organizations who are, please check out this link on how to submit a concept or contact me (lindaraftree at gmail) or Jess (Jessica.Greenhalf at Plan-International dot org). If the youth you’re working with are more comfortable in a language other than English or French, please let us know so that we could see how to support them to engage.

Please share this call for submissions through your own networks – we are hoping for a real variety of contributions to what should be a great Special Issue!

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Bamboo Shoots training manual

I like to share good training guides when I come across them, so here is a quick summary and a link to Bamboo Shoots. It was originally created by Plan in Cambodia.

Bamboo Shoots is a training manual on child rights, child centered community development and child-led community actions for facilitators working with children and youth groups. You can download it here.

Bamboo Shoots was developed to: Increase children’s understanding of their rights as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC); raise children’s awareness of their rights and build their capacities to claim them; create opportunities for children to recognize, identify and prioritize issues and problems or gaps in relation to child rights violations; and provide opportunities for children to influence agendas and action regarding identified and prioritized child rights violations.

Bamboo Shoots takes complicated concepts and breaks them down into easy language and engaging, interactive sessions. It also offers good resources and background material for facilitators so that they can manage the sessions well.

Part One:

I like this manual because it starts off right in the first chapter with the importance of setting the tone and the context for good child and youth participation. It provides ideas on selecting participants and facilitators, and gives a description of a good facilitator. It provides recommendations on the setting and practical considerations for managing a workshop with children, as well as good paragraph to help think through when and when not to include other adults in the training.

The guideline goes through the 6 principles for making child participation a reality:

  1. Non-discrimination and inclusiveness
  2. Democracy and equality of opportunity
  3. Physical, emotional and psychological safety of participants
  4. Adult responsibility
  5. Voluntarism, informed consent and transparency
  6. Participation as an enjoyable and stimulating experience for children

It shares Plan’s code of ethics on child participation and important steps to follow in working with children, as well as tips on how to establish a good working relationship with children, how to help children learn and develop their potential, how to help children build self-confidence and self-esteem, and how to encourage children to develop a responsible attitude towards others and a sense of community. There is a section on how to keep children safe also and an explanation of a facilitator’s ‘duty of care’.

A last section of part one lists common facilitation techniques and tools, such as: role-play, working in pairs and groups, idea storming, whole group discussion, questioning, projects, buzz sessions, drawing, photographs, video, word association, recreating information and more; and gives ideas on when they are most useful.

Part Two:

Section 9 on community mapping

The next section has very complete sessions on:

  • the concept of rights
  • the history of human rights, and international treaties on rights
  • children’s rights as human rights
  • duties and responsibilities in relation to child rights
  • making sure children are involved
  • child rights and daily realities and making a child rights map
  • gaps in fulfilling child rights
  • setting priority problems and violations of child rights
  • creating an action agenda and proposed solutions to the gaps identified

Each session comes complete with a pre-training assessment, reading material for facilitators and handouts for participants.

Part Three:

The last section of the manual helps facilitators take children through the steps to child-led community action, including children’s participation in all the program and project cycles: assessment, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Needs-based vs. Rights-based

It also explains Plan’s rights-based child-centered community development approach, the foundations of that approach, and the difference between needs-based approaches and rights-based approaches. It goes on to cover planning and supporting child-led community action.

The last section of the guide offers a list of resources and references.

For anyone working with children, or even anyone looking for an excellent comprehensive community training package on rights and community-led action, I really recommend checking out Bamboo Shoots. Whether you are working through media and ICTs or using more traditional means for engaging children, this is a great guide on how to do it well from start to finish. I’ll be referring to it often.

Additional Resources:

Minimum standards for child participation in national and regional consultation events

Protocols and documents to help ensure good quality child participation

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Insight Share’s rights-based approach to participatory video toolkit

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child participation at events: getting it right

Community based child protection

Child protection, the media and youth media programs

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Our Tracking Violence Against Children in Benin project won first prize for Most Innovative Use of Technology or Social Media in Plan’s internal Global Awards contest. The competition was fierce and we were up against some really great projects.

Here’s a nice video overview of the project and where we hope to take the initiative as we go forward.

We still have some kinks to work out and we are still in pilot phase, but we are pretty happy about the award in any case. It helps motivate us even further to improve on the idea until it’s fully functioning and sustainable and we know that it’s resulting in more reporting of violence, helping to track trends and cases of violence, and being used by local and national authorities for responding and following up on those cases that occur.

Many many thanks to everyone who has helped the project get where it is, including:  Henri da Silva, Carmen Johnson, Bell’Aube Houinato, Amelie Soukossi, Eleonore Soglohoun, Morel Azanhoue, Victoire Tidjani, Alfred Santos, Jean Sewanou, Michel Kanhonou, Paul Fagnon, Camille Ogounssan, Anastasie Koudoh, Mika Valitalo, Ken Banks, Josh Nesbit, Patrick Meier, Juliana Rodich, Henry Addo, David Kobia, James Bon Tempo, Stefanie Conrad, Theresa Carpenter, Penelope Chester, Shona Hamilton, and community leaders, parents, school directors, local authorities, children and youth in the 2 participating communities.

Related posts on Wait… What?

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Tweaking SMS based violence reporting system in Benin

Community based child protection

New Plan report on ICT-enabled development

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