Children and Young People deserve our accountability

In the world of accountability; feedback and complaints mechanisms have prominence.

A young person’s thoughts on feedback mechanisms for young people.

Feedback mechanisms are considered essential for building transparency and trust, improving outcomes and processes, providing higher quality services and proving as indicators of problems. There is also an increasing understanding that the best feedback systems are designed with the users at centre and in culturally and contextually competent ways.

At the core of valuing and respecting children is acknowledging and legitimising the view that they are critical stakeholders of government, business and community. This is important because once this view is established, other actions follow. In particular there is a requirement of those with power to take into account the views of those affected by that power and to be responsible to them when they exercise this power, and also to be able to be held accountable by them.

I have been looking at examples of good practice in relation to the feedback mechanism designed for children and young people and not surprisingly there is little local evidence of deep thinking in this area. Programs directly working with children and young people use techniques to rate satisfaction and give feedback and complete surveys. These tend to be more about the programs they are involved in or requests for feedback from adults.

But what do feedback and complaints mechanisms that are properly accountable and designed for children and young people look like? How do we find out about how they are treated and how they report breaches of code of conduct? How do they tell us about what concerns them and what they love?

Over the past few months I have been exploring the concepts of feedback and complaints with groups of young people. I have asked them to consider:

· What mechanisms are in place?
· What makes a good feedback system for young people?
· What are fundamental principles that need to be considered?
· Are there different expectations of young people in relation to government, business or NGOs?

The conversations have been fascinating and I am now in the process of testing ideas with more groups of young people and supporting them to design a child and young people focussed feedback mechanism.

Another young person’s thoughts on feedback mechanisms for young people.

But the most interesting element of these conversations relates to the issue of trust. There is a recurring theme of trust in so many of my recent conversations. Which institutions do young people trust? What makes them trustworthy and how is trust broken? Central to this theme of trust is the role of transparency and the ability to provide feedback. Equally as important is how obvious the values of business, NGOs, or government are, and therefore how well they align with young people’s personal values.

The children and young people I consult with are born this century. When we look at the social and technological changes that have occurred this century, that have challenged and disrupted our thinking around civil infrastructure, it is not surprising that issues of social trust emerge.

When asked about trust in government young people told me:

1. Openness = trustworthiness

2. The responses to feedback would make government more trustworthy

3. They should ask for feedback

4. They want evidence of government delivering on their promises

What was interesting in the most recent group of young people I spoke to who were aged 13 to 18, was the impact that the recent change in Prime Minister had on trust. They were split on the positives and negatives.

When asked about trust in business, participants spoke about the importance of:

1. Good reviews and customer service

2. Customer testimonials

3. Easy to give feedback, open to response, quality of replies, nice employees

4. Appearance (website, store, employees etc.)

5. Their ability to regularly communicate

6. Endorsements of services and products by celebrities/athletes

These factors play out in the different ways young people view business and government. Over the next few months I will explore these concepts further with children and young people:

· What makes a feedback system accessible?
· What does good customer service look like?
· What are realistic time frames for people to get back to you?
· Do different issues need different responses?
· When is a bot okay and when do you want a person?

I am sure that what I find out will be invaluable for anyone interested in being more respectful of and more accountable to our youngest citizens.


Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Friday 28th September 2018