Barry Percy-Smith is Professor of Childhood, Youth and Participatory Practice at the University of Huddersfield, UK and Director of the Just Futures Centre for Child, Youth, Family and Community research. He has extensive experience as a participatory action researcher in research, evaluation and development projects in a wide range of public sector and community contexts involving citizens and service users in new forms of engaged research. Barry kindly shared his thoughts on why youth participation is  vital to building better organisations, services and communities.

Why is youth participation important?

It’s a fundamental right of citizenship. Part of being included in society is for young people to be able to contribute to society. That includes making a contribution to everyday life (e.g. contribution to the functioning of family and community, but also public life) as well as decisions that shape society. If young people are to be acknowledged as equal citizens their values and perspectives need to be respected and included. Young people’s participation is also important for their education as they develop the capacities and insight to articulate what it means to be a citizen.

What benefits/solutions does improving youth participation bring to organisations? 

Young people bring unique insight and creativity which is valuable for finding solutions to problems. Quite simply, young people are often able to think outside of the box in ways adults can sometimes struggle with, which is essential for finding solutions to problems. 

What was your biggest learning on engaging with young people? Do you feel you would have known this without youth participation? 

That from quite a young age young people have a considerable amount of capability. Adults can generally trust them and don’t need to patronise, talk down to, control, over protect or over direct young people. Allow the space for young people to articulate their ideas and expressions of self. In the recent Nuffield Foundation ‘Growing up under covid’ project, I also learnt that young people have much stronger moral compasses than many adults and therefore could play an important role in mediating the stupidity of many adults, especially self-interested politicians.

Why Participation People?

Because they are dynamic, no nonsense, action focused, recognise and respect young people’s potential and create a space for genuine participation. That’s a cliché, I know, but I mean supporting them to take the initiative and to realise their abilities fully.

What’s next?

It’s all about action! Never mind the youth councils, get out there and take the initiative. What else can we do – because we can’t rely on the politicians. Taking action also reinforces to adults that they don’t need to have reservations or be afraid of letting go of power as young people really do know what they are doing. They need to be heard.


Want to know more about how youth participation can transform your organisation? Get started by talking to one of our youth experts. 

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