Children and youth have the right to a sustainable future: An exploratory evaluation of online decision-support tools ability to include young people in Swedish planning practice
This post is written by Mia Johansson, who undertook her thesis research in 2020–2021 as part of Working Package 4 of the Planning with Youth research project.
Her thesis is titled “Decision-support tools inclusion of youth and children in planning: an exploratory evaluation of available decision-support tools in Sweden”.
The Brundtland report from 1987 states:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
— The Brundtland report ‘Our Common Future’ (1987)
In Sweden, urbanization is occurring on an intense level. This means that sustainable development is more crucial than ever if we are going to meet the objective set by the Brundtland Report in 1987.
Placing focus on child- and youth participation is one way to do this.
The UN Convention on the Right of the Child was recently transposed into Swedish law. This law implies that children and youth have a right to participate in decision-making processes that affect them and their everyday life.
What does this mean for Swedish planning practice about decision-making processes and children and youth’s possibilities to be included?
Well, parts of the decision-making system need to be adapted for sustainable development to be achieved and for children’s rights to become incorporated through all phases of planning.
Online decision-support tools for inclusion of youth
In spatial planning, online decision-support tools make it possible for society to cast votes and opinions on questions such as:
What is needed? What is suggested? What can/should be the focus of change?
These questions are usually incorporated in the tools’ data collection framework.
However, most online tools available for Swedish spatial planners are focused on the main society which creates gaps and issues for certain demographic groups to participate, even though the changes affect everybody.
This gap was addressed in the thesis “Decision-support tools inclusion of youth and children in planning: an exploratory evaluation of available decision-support tools in Sweden”. The thesis focuses on the societal group of children and youth in Sweden.
To assess and analyze selected online decision-support tools, Hart’s ladder of participation and Shier’s levels of participation were applied. The online tools were surveyed against these in their ability to allow children and youth to have a voice in accordance with The Convention on the Right of the Child.
The MSc thesis focused on the following research questions:
(1) What decision-support tools are available for spatial planners in Sweden?
(2) How are decision-support tools used in relation to spatial planning in Sweden?
(3) How are the decision-support tools currently available creating opportunities to include youth and children within aspects of participation?
By creating a codebook with criteria such as the participation ladder and levels, sustainable transitions and social sustainability, it was analyzed whether the online decision-support tools contained the capacity to include children and youth, or if they are in need if improvement. The results were represented within set categories which made it possible to see important patterns (see Table 1).
The first and second question helped navigate towards the answer of the third question, which held most value for children and youth.
In total, seven decision-support tools made the cut to be analyzed in accordance with the set criteria. The online decision-support tools in Sweden came in various forms. Most common was tools developed as model- and framework analysis tools, where data is collected to make more informed decisions about children and youth. Further, tools came in shapes of interactive maps and with survey attachments.
A field in need for adaptation and improvement
The evidence of children and youth not being fully able to participate through the available online decision-support tools was quite clear in accordance with the set criteria. Further, it showed a field in need for adaptation and improvement. Despite that the data was collected only from seven sources, a pattern could be distinguished quite prominently.
As one of Sweden’s goals is to become more digitized, the need to develop existing and upcoming online decision-making tools is of utmost importance to keep them at a standard that is in accordance with The Convention on the Right of the Child.
The thesis serves a purpose by mapping tools that aid in increasing children and youth participation in Sweden. Further, the thesis shows that children and youth in environmental movements bring new ideas and perspectives now more than ever.
The older generations have an obligation to meet the next generations’ needs. Space for children and youth needs to be made more available online. The stage is to be set so that children and youth become a part of participation just as much as adults, especially since the future we are paving way for at this moment is theirs.