Engaging children to develop policy guidelines

Bill Okaka

Knowledge Management & Communications Officer, ASSIST Kenya

Contributing writers: Jemimah Owande and Irene Mutea (Quality Improvement Officer - OVC).

In advancing ASSIST’s work with the Government of Kenya through the Department of Children Services, the project took another leap in ensuring quality dissemination of the National Psychosocial Support Guidelines for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, by developing a ‘popular version of the same’ – targeting children aged 0 to 18 as primary audience.

As opposed to the national document (highly voluminous with policy level information), the ‘popular version’ purposes to present content (easy to read write-up) and context (setting of stories and situations) in a child friendly version; illustrations, bigger font, shorter sentences, with highly memorable quotes. Further, to avoid ‘making another good for shelf document,’ the project engaged children (mobilized by Childfund Kenya) to solicit feedback on the prototype; thus, informing desired packaging and presentation ahead of mass production.

Through extensive probing and open-ended questions, children provided feedback on vividness of the (i) material in design, color, text and narrative, (ii) most compelling benefit clarified, (iii) information trust generated by tone, presentation, and believable images, and (iv) messages appealing to the heart (or emotion) and head (or reason).

Working with 72 children in groups of 12, the Focus Group Discussion sessions yielded positive results as they indicated that the suggested illustrations helps in (i) creating attention by anchoring distinctiveness that appeals to the sensory capacities and past reinforcement; (ii) reinforcing retention by including aspects of symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization; (iii) offering an opportunity for reproduction by providing spaces for child practices within the publication; and (iv) triggering motivation by giving children a good reason to imitate via imagined incentives. The twofold development assignment, that involved (i) development of dummy images for guiding the layout of the publication, and (ii) re-touch done as advised by pre-test results, proved successful.

Generally, the project looked out for comprehension, attractiveness, acceptance, involvement, inducement to action – achieving these indices made the ‘popular version’ good for the target audience. The publication advocates for what we want the audience to know, think of and act.

In thinking beyond the launch of finalized product, digitizing the ‘popular version’ is an option. With the advent of mobile phone technology, it will be prudent to transfer content to a fashionable mobile phone application – this ensures continued content and context review, trackable access and referrals, and supporting for on-line children’s discussions. Also, engaging child-based programs on national and local radio station to use the popular version as a guide for community interactive sessions, will add impetus to drumming the information across masses.

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