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Mainstreaming children’s participation in urban planning processes for vulnerable settings

PhD thesis by Dr Robyn Mansfield, Monash Sustainable Development Institute

Read: Mainstreaming children’s participation in urban planning processes for vulnerable settings

Vulnerability to hazards is a global problem, drastically impacting the ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Progress reports towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals call for a participatory approach to human settlement planning. Despite this, the population group of children is one of the most vulnerable and excluded groups, disproportionately affected by extreme poverty and disasters, and perpetually excluded from urban planning processes.

Achieving participatory and inclusive structures in planning and decision-making requires the voices of children to be incorporated into our systems. While SDG target 11.3 calls for ‘inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacities for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries’, children are systematically excluded from decision-making in urban planning structures. Children’s lived experiences vary considerably to that of adults, and they are greatly impacted by the governance and decision-making systems that impact the built environment. Yet their knowledge is systematically ignored or misunderstood. The causes of this exclusion and understanding of how to mainstream their participation is limited, particularly in the most vulnerable of settings.

The aim of my research was to identify the core problem leading to children’s exclusion from urban planning processes for vulnerable settings. I examined this through a series of empirical case studies which included RISE Fiji as a key case study. The RISE case study used an institutional logics framework to determine the barriers and enablers to children’s participation in RISE Fiji. The impact of children’s participation in RISE Fiji was also explored.

The findings provide insight into the role of individuals in creating a participatory culture, the impacts of organisational factors on children’s participation, and expands knowledge on types of participation and their impacts. The findings also demonstrate that inclusion or exclusion of children from urban planning processes impacts whole communities, and the implications of exclusion or poor participation can be extremely detrimental, with the potential to last generations.

Overall, the findings provide practical opportunities for practitioners working in urban planning processes to overcome barriers to participation and influence organisational change to support mainstreaming of children’s participation.

This research presents a way forward that challenges our existing approaches to participation, demonstrating how practitioners, academics, policymakers and civil society can challenge and transform existing systems to tap into the transformative potential that children can offer towards achieving SDG 11.

I’m most proud that I have been able to use my research throughout the thesis to help organisations strengthen their inclusion of children in their processes, and I hope to continue this influence with upcoming presentations and consultancy work.