VocalEyes reached a significant milestone on Friday April 27, 2018. A training event for Participatory Democracy Champions from 10 secondary schools in the City of Cardiff took place in the grandeur of Cardiff City Hall. We welcomed almost 60 young people and their teachers on the day.

Preparations for the day had gone into high gear the day before when Pete (VocalEyes) and Sue (Dialogue Exchange) worked with the Student Participatory Democracy Group in Cathays. Supported by a member of Cathays’ Senior Management team, Leslie Hitchens, and Lee Patterson, who spearheads Cardiff’s journey to become a Child Friendly City, the young people planned the event. Cathays High School is the pilot secondary school for the project and their Participatory Democracy Student Group had already trained pupils in Cathays to use the platform.

A rainy Friday began with the students from Cathays welcoming the schools as they arrived in City Hall. They quickly got the students settled and ready to use their portable devices (mobiles, tablets, laptops). The students taught them how to log on to the Cardiff Child friendly City group on the VocalEyes platform. That was achieved remarkably quickly as all the Cathays’ students are now experts at introducing others to the platform. Cathays’ students also found time to conduct some planned interviews with key people for a video that was being made during the day by Promo-Cymru, before moving seamlessly into the formal introductions.

elizabeth introducing the Grand Council event launching participatory democracy to schools in Cardiff
Elizabeth introducing the Grand Council event launching participatory democracy to schools in Cardiff

Elizabeth, a year 9 pupil in Cathays, welcomed everyone to the event before Lee Patterson told the students about Cardiff’s commitment to listening to children’s voices. Loki from Cathays gave a brief overview of participatory democracy and the day started in earnest.

Pete gave a short introduction to the purpose of VocalEyes and its capacity to bring Pupil Voice alive in both the city and each of the 128 schools the city serves. The students immediately began rating and debating ideas that had already been added to the group by the students of Cathays. Soon the students were adding ideas of their own to suggest how Cardiff could become a more Child friendly City.

Cardiff Child Friendly City - Secondary School Students - Improved Facilities - on VocalEyes
Cardiff Child Friendly City – Secondary School Students – Improved Facilities – on VocalEyes

The day was broken up with exercises to help the students from the 10 schools get to know each other and share their thinking on participatory democracy and what priorities for change they want for the city and for their schools.

Dialogue around issues - Grand Council event.
Dialogue around issues – Grand Council event.

The top priorities emerging from the CfC pilot group were summarised into five topics: Transport; Homelessness; More open green spaces; More outdoor and indoor activities and Stress. In a participatory activity the students identified ‘Stress’ as their top priority and it was clear from the discussion on the day that students feel under pressure from many directions. They wanted more counselors and more adults to listen to them and help them deal with stressful situations. It was helpful to have Lisa from the Cardiff and Vale Health Board attending who asked some important questions about health services could best support the young people.

Cardiff Child Friendly City - Seconday School Students - More help for the homeless - on VocalEyes
Cardiff Child Friendly City – Seconday School Students – More help for the homeless – on VocalEyes

Later in the day we seeded proposals for change suggested by the transport department of the Local Authority to the CfC group and asked the young people to rate, debate and prioritise these ideas. Proposals for a single transport card similar to an Oyster card so young people could travel on trains and buses with one card was very popular.

Cardiff Child Friendly City - Secondary School Students - Ideas to improve transport
Cardiff Child Friendly City – Secondary School Students – Ideas to improve transport

Later in the morning Head Teacher, Dr Luisa Munro-Morris from Lansdowne Primary spoke about pupil voice in her school. Lansdowne had been the primary pilot school and students were very impressed with the work the school has done already.

They saw that when pupil voice is taken seriously and all the pupils in the school, not just the student council, get to rate, debate and add ideas for improvement, then things will get done. Students also realised how important it is to get buy-in from the Senior Management Teams in their schools and to this purpose they spent part of the afternoon planning an engagement strategy to take back to their schools.

Lansdowne Primary School - Build a reading area in the playground
Lansdowne Primary School – Build a reading area in the playground

Students took very seriously the session on digital etiquette. They were asked to consider how people should behave in a digital space and draw up a set of guidelines. Each school’s ideas will be available in the Notes section of the Participatory Democracy Champions Group so they can refer to them at any time.

Grand Council workshop - Digital Etiquette using VocalEyes
Grand Council workshop – Digital Etiquette using VocalEyes

Later they were asked to discuss how they would analyse the ideas which students in their own schools will add to the VocalEyes school group and consider how to progress them to action. Using the ideas on the CfC group as an example they considered four ideas that had been posted on transport:

  • Free public transport for youth.
  • Develop active travel zones in the city centre and neighbourhoods (where walking, cycling and non-motorised transport takes priority.
  • Clean air zones (an area with targeted action to improve air quality).
  • Integrated ticketing (like an Oyster card).
Cathays Student Representatives peer mentoring other secondary school students on participatory democracy using VocalEyes
Cathays Student Representatives peer mentoring other secondary school students on participatory democracy using VocalEyes

In their school groups, with the support of the Cathays’ mentors students had to decide how to categorise each of the questions using the following guidelines:

  1. Action to be taken immediately (if so what action).
  2. Idea to be researched (working group required).
  3. More detail required (ask questions on the group).
  4. Expert opinion required.

This session emphasised that unless ideas are taken forward to an action stage students will lose interest.

Reflecting on the Day

By the end of the day all students had learned what VocalEyes is all about and how it can support student voice in the schools and support the child’s voice in a Child friendly City. Specifically they gained digital skills, so important in our digital age by learning how:

  • to log in and use VocalEyes
  • to rate, debate and add ideas
  • to establish the platform in their schools and teach others how to use it
  • to create a safe digital space by developing digital behaviour guidelines
  • to identify priorities for action
  • to decide how to progress an idea towards action
  • to plan an engagement strategy for their schools.

Over the next few weeks the students will be invited to take part in Webinars with VocalEyes to develop their understanding of the platform and move things forward in their schools. The Participatory Democracy Champions’ Group will provide a forum for the students to share best practice, ask advice and support each other.

The ambition of becoming a Child friendly City means all children and young people in Cardiff should be in Rights Respecting Schools (UNCRC www.unicef.org/crc/). One of the key rights of the UNCRC is participation. Research shows overwhelmingly that when children and young people participate in decision-making in their school communities the outcomes are extremely positive across many domains. By engaging young people in exercising their participation rights, not only in their schools but in their city, the local authority is taking a major step towards Education for Democracy.

By including VocalEyes on this journey schools have the opportunity to ensure democratic structures and practices are modeled in the everyday lives of the students in their classrooms and schools. The experiential nature of the approach has the potential to empower young people. This potential has already been demonstrated in our case study schools. We firmly believe that VocalEyes has the potential to impact on democratic literacy, digital literacy, self-esteem and motivation. We are very excited about the developments to come. Watch this space!

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This blog post was written by Sue Lyle from Dialogue Exchange

Launch of Participatory Democracy at the Grand Council in Cardiff