Challenges and risks

Common key challenges and risks of co-designing with children affected by displacement include:

  • Raising unrealistic expectations

If not planned carefully, participatory design can raise unrealistic expectations among participants. This can have a negative impact on how participants feel about the final built outcome and the stakeholders involved in the intervention. Furthermore, participants might reject the intervention if they feel that their opinions are not taken into account, and that decisions are being made by other stakeholders. In a context of displacement, where individuals are often not given the chance to express their views, avoiding disappointment around participation becomes even more crucial.

  • Not being able to engage with the most vulnerable

Access to the community and to the users of a built intervention can come through different sources and processes. This can sometimes pose a limitation on the capacity of the project to reach the most vulnerable individuals, as participants may come from existing networks that do
not include all members of the community. In many cases, ensuring the inclusion of the most vulnerable implies allocating considerable resources to the participants’ outreach phase. Moreover, when working in vulnerable situations, children can lack independence and self-direction, which can be a socialising response to their caregivers who themselves have little freedom in their daily lives.

  • Not being able to identify, understand and challenge power dynamics

Similar to the previous point, participatory processes should identify existing power dynamics and aim to enable the equal engagement of all members of the community. Nevertheless, if participatory engagement is limited to short activities, and facilitators conducting such activities
do not have previous experience and knowledge of the community, it will be difficult to identify and potentially challenge existing power dynamics. Choosing a team of facilitators with experience and knowledge of the local context is therefore crucial, especially in contexts of displacement, as often the most vulnerable members of the community do not get a chance to participate in decision making processes. Participatory design presents an opportunity to challenge such conditions and to generate positive outcomes for vulnerable individuals and the society in which they live.

  • Not being able to include everyone

It is unlikely that all users will be able to engage in the participatory design process for built interventions. A possible way to address this challenge is to select participants to represent the diverse groups living in the area of intervention, even for projects predominantly aimed at children. The relevant dimensions of people’s identities that must be considered varies in each context, but some to consider include: gender, age, race and ethnicity, ability, religion, nationality, sexuality. It is the role of the facilitators and the project partners to ensure that diversity is taken into consideration when selecting participants. There are different ways of including community members, as not everybody can participate in the entire process, but may provide feedback at key points. Public consultations (presented in part A) are a good way to expand participation.

  • Changing people’s mindset towards children’s participation

In some contexts, including communities affected by displacement, it may be challenging to argue for the importance of children’s participation as children are not seen as experts. Therefore it can be difficult to show how children can contribute to built interventions and improve the final outcome. Children’s participation needs to be valued by all stakeholders to be an integral part of the process. Involving parents and caregivers may be a useful strategy to achieve better outcomes while mitigating this risk.

  • Politics and barriers to citizens participation

In some contexts, where citizen participation is not valued or granted, and where there are hierarchical decision-making processes, there may be challenges in obtaining support from those in power for the introduction of participatory design of built interventions.

  • Lack of willingness to participate in local projects

Displaced people often have a strong desire to return home or to move to a country where asylum is assured. This can result in low levels of emotional investment in the host community, and a lack of willingness to participate in local projects.

  • Lack of time for participation

Many displaced people are daily wagers and participating in community- based projects may involve a loss of income. In some contexts, this may also apply to children whose work contributes to family earnings.

  • Time and budget limitations

Organisations working in contexts of displacement often have a tendency to focus on short-term needs, often resulting in projects with a short timeline. Funding is also often limited as donors focus on more measurable outputs rather than the long-term benefits of participatory processes, which are more difficult to measure. As participatory design can be a lengthy process, it is often left out in a context where quick responses are prioritised.

Similar arguments can be made around budget limitations. As participatory design processes can be time consuming, project budgets need to allocate appropriate resources for hiring and training the facilitators of the participatory design process.

  • Participation can be harmful

Is children’s participation always good? In some cases, participation can do more harm than good. Working with a selected group within the community can increase segregation and internal divisions. Understanding the local context, the diversity of people and their lives is fundamental to planning the co-design process (see step 5: Translating children’s ideas into design solutions).

Despite the limitations, it is important to engage children in participatory processes, and to create empowering opportunities for children to influence built interventions. This handbook presents ways to address these key challenges and minimise the risks, while ensuring meaningful participation and a sustainable end product.