Include more children speakers at (online) conferences. Some ‘how to’s’ on making it work and keeping it authentic.

Children’s voices are largely missing from debates and conferences, even when they themselves are the subject matter. How can we ensure that more children get to contribute and be heard?
In this post I share lessons learned at Design-athon on how we have included children as speakers in a variety of offline, online and international conferences.

Francis from Tanzania, Nora from the Netherlands and Joppe from Belgium, who spoke at the Cinekid Professionals Festival (online)

Inviting Children, be inclusive
Depending on the time you have and the topic at hand, make a shortlist of children to invite. Three is a good number, if you are making a panel. Aim to have a mix of boys and girls and cultural backgrounds. In the case of the Cinekid Festival we had Francis, 11 years from Tanzania, Joppe, 12 from from Belgium and Nora, 13 from the Netherlands. In the case of the Ashoka Changemaker Summit we had two children, Breno 12 and Mijntje, 11 to join a panel of adults and other young people.

At designathon we work with children, through schools, after-school programs and events we host ourselves in this way we know many children in a variety of contexts who have worked on the Sustainable Development Goalss and thus a variety of topics. If you don’t work with children yourself, reach out to a local school, or a children’s NGO and invite them to propose a child to take part in your event.

Child safety and legal permission
Child safety is paramount, furthermore a legal guardian must give their consent for the child to take part and or have their photo or video published. Typical documents to get signed are a ‘Quit claim’ or ‘Consent form’ It is good practice to limit the publishing of the child’s photo or video to the context of the event or the website of the event organiser.
To further protect children, we only ever publish their first names and age. Don’t include any address or contact details. Do make sure the the child is included in the program lineup with their expertise (not just as a child) For example: ‘Lya 10, Inventor’ The atmosphere and context at the event should also be child friendly.

Practicing with the child/ren
Children, especially the first time they speak are naturally nervous. You can help them by explaining clearly how the session will go, what’s expected of them, how long it will take and encouraging them that people will be eager to hear what they have to say. I often work with an interview format, and discuss the kinds of the things the child would like to tell beforehand and then we role play practice a few times. In general in my work the children are telling about their own invention for an SDG Design-athon challenge they worked on.

Lya, 10, speaking at ‘Youth with Dreams’ (online)

Multiple languages and translating
Many international events are in English, and not all children of course speak English fluently. This doesn’t have to be a problem. You have two main options:

1. On zoom (or other video conferencing tool) you can use ‘closed captioning’ whereby an adult (or teenager) who speaks the language the child speaks plus English, sufficiently well, does simultaneous translation. They type the child’s words as they speak and this appears on screen as subtitles.

2. A translator is included in the panel or video conference and translates what the child says to English immediately after the child has spoken. With a bit of practice this can be done with flow, although it brings a time cost factor with it.

Spontaneity, authenticity
An important reason for including children in debates is because they often are the ones to ‘hit the nail on the head’ about an issue. They ‘tell it like it is’ So while you want to help the child feel confident by practicing or rehearsing. Do also leave time and opportunity for the audience or moderator to ask the child/ren questions. So they can speak their truth, a truth which is so valuable to hear.

Rosa, 7 Amalia, 11 Shira, 8 Tessa, 10 at ‘We Make the City’ (live)

Do you work with children and encourage their inclusion at events and or create opportunities for them to speak and be heard?
I’d love to hear how you make things work or if you have questions, please post them below.

Let’s hear more children’s perspectives on our shared futures.