ARC Project profile: Children’s Voice

We caught up with Sarah Ward, Research Associate: Scottish Children’s Neighbourhoods (Educational Leadership & Policy) at the University of Glasgow, to discuss her Children’s Voice initiative, which address child poverty by hearing the priorities and challenges from children and youth themselves in order to create more effective policies.

This project profile is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator, Class of 2021. ARC (formerly SUCCESS) is now on to it’s second cohort of university-based ventures seeking to change the world through their innovative, creative and disruptive ideas.

Q: What’s your academic background and how did it lead to starting your venture?

I’m a bit of a non-traditional academic in that I worked for a long time in the field of community development and youth work, in Glasgow. I was really interested in how to support people in high poverty communities to articulate what their priorities were for social change. 

Often, other people make decisions about what needs to be done to communities so during my PhD, I began developing this model to ask people with lived experience about their priorities for wellbeing. Since I’ve finished my PhD and been working as a researcher at Glasgow University, I’ve continued developing this model, and it’s become the capabilities research model. 

The pilot programme that I’m employed within as a researcher, Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland, is funded by the Scottish Government to address child poverty. So that research tool has been modified and developed for use with children and young people specifically. Where I was originally interested in community voice, I’m now focused on the voices of children and young people, and how including people with lived experience in policy decision-making actually improves policy. This means we get to know where the real problems and barriers are to children moving forward and achieving their goals.

Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?

The capabilities research model aims to reduce child poverty by identifying youth priorities for change. It also identifies the barriers that children and young people come across in the way of trying to achieve their goals for wellbeing. 

And what I find really useful is that offering children this model means you can get to the heart of the problem quite quickly. If you were starting from a blank sheet of paper, it would take us much longer, especially for younger children to articulate what the problems are in poor communities. We start from a set of capabilities developed by Martha Nussbaum as ‘minimum threshold’ goals: the minimum that a person needs to live a life of dignity.

This approach allows all those things to come together into one framework, but within it, you can hold quite a lot of complex, nuanced data. It’s also possible to aggregate up the findings. So you can use it as a local tool, a regional tool and then you can potentially look nationally – to see, for example, if standard of living is a concern for children across the whole of Scotland, or the whole of the UK. It’s really useful for a government to know that. 

“Governments spend a huge amount of money on child poverty. So if you can get that spending right, you can reduce child poverty and improve the lives of children and young people.”

Sarah Ward, Children’s Voice

Q: How is the ARC Accelerator program supporting you in bringing your venture to life?

It’s great to have this safe space that’s quite nurturing, to develop your idea. It’s just been absolutely brilliant to get the level of expertise and enthusiasm that’s come from the cohort, you can really feel the sense of energy of all the people who believe in these ideas, which really helps to spur me on. I’ve had lots of doubts about whether it can fly as a social venture and whether I’m at the right point in my career to be doing this, but ultimately, I’ve just kept going, because there’s lots of people saying, “Keep going, it’s great!”. And it’s just brilliant to get that positive feedback.

You can find all the project profiles from the ARC Accelerator here

Photo credit: Michael Morse via Pexels

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