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Voices into Action (VIA) Toolkit

A digital resource supporting learner and family participation in educational decision-making

Ethical considerations across the framework

Throughout each element of the framework – Space, Voice, Audience and Influence – it is vital to consider ethical issues. Ethical approaches to learner and family participation recognise and address all stakeholders’ needs, backgrounds and abilities. They emphasise that taking steps to include silenced and marginalised voices can ensure the best outcomes for all. All approaches to learner and family participation must be transparent, voluntary, respectful, relevant, inclusive, supported by training, safe and sensitive to risk, accountable and child-friendly. 

Refer to the following ethical considerations when organising and participating in activities.

  • All participants should have an equal opportunity to share their voices.

  • Participants should be able to choose someone to speak, interpret or represent their views.

  • Participants should have the right to choose not to participate, withdraw their participation or remain silent at any point.

  • Participants should be able to decide how they want to access information, share information and express views.

Power balance
  • All stakeholders should be aware of vulnerabilities, risks and power imbalances in intergenerational or personal-professional interactions. These may arise from differences in age or social capital and cultural, ethnic, linguistic or educational backgrounds.

  • Those in positions of power should minimise the risks of any negative consequences of participation, such as exploitation, tokenism and bullying.

  • All stakeholders should strive to maintain an inclusive, neutral and unbiased atmosphere.

Accessibility and diversity
  • Activity organisers should consider the implications related to the use of online spaces, like access to technology and security and privacy issues.

  • All stakeholders should strive to maintain objectivity and openness to diverse views, including those that may be negative, contradictory or challenging.

  • Activity organisers should be attentive to ‘silent’ or marginalised voices and make sure everyone has the support they need to express their voices voluntarily.

  • All stakeholders should respect all voices, accepting those which go against the majority as equally valuable perspectives and contributions to a full discussion.

Reflective questions for participatory activities

Refer to the following questions before, during and after an activity to reflect on whether ethical considerations are being or have been met, and potential areas for improvement.

Download the reflective questions (PDF)

Before the activity
  • How am I selecting participants? Do they represent a range of backgrounds and views? 

  • How am I getting informed consent? Have I informed the participants as to the purposes, processes and possible consequences of their participation? Have I informed them about note taking and/or video recording and how these will be used? Am I using appropriate consent forms? Do I explain all technical terms and jargon? 

  • Do I organise the meetings at a time and in a place, language and format that enable all to participate? 

  • What provisions will I make for accessibility issues? Is the preparatory material accessible? Am I using plain language without loss of meaning? 

  • Who will conduct the activity, and what is their relationship to the participants? 

  • What options will I provide for participants to express their voices (text, audio, video, photography, drawing, etc.)? 

  • What other communication systems do we need to address all participants’ needs, such as sign language interpretation, braille or speech synthesisers? 

  • Do I plan to share questions or topic areas with participants prior to the meeting? 

  • Have I thought about how to collect feedback from all participants? 

During the activity
  • Do participants have a chance to exchange views in an open and trusting environment? 

  • Am I paying attention to the differences in participants’ perspectives? 

  • Are learners able to communicate about any aspect of their experiences they wish, and not only following the predetermined agenda? 

  • Am I allowing participants to share negative feelings, so long as they do not harm others in the space? 

  • Do I enable all voices and means of expression, including silence? 

  • Do I respond to and record all voices fairly and appropriately? 

  • Do I respect the individuality of each participant and value all voices equally, seeing beyond labels and differences? 

  • Do I view the learners as equal members of the dialogue? 

  • Do I recognise the power relations?

After the activity
  • Am I being transparent and clear in how I interpret the voices expressed and share them with other stakeholders, particularly those with decision-making power? 

  • Do I use reported speech or direct quotes from the participants? 

  • Do I record the authentic meaning of participants’ voices? Am I maintaining their intended meaning? 

  • How does my own professional and adult status frame my interpretations and next steps? 

  • Have I explored ways to evaluate all phases of the activity, aiming to identify challenges, solutions and improvements? 

  • What processes am I using to evaluate the participants’ responses and feedback? 

  • How will I maintain communication with the participants on how their voices were used and what happens next? 

  • Have I explored ways to collect further information on the impact of the participants’ contributions?

Practical tools

ERIC: Ethical Research Involving Children

Ethical Guidance

This guiding document promotes ‘procedural compliance with institutional review boards’. It also ‘provokes critical thinking around ethics, and supports reflexivity in ethical decision-making throughout the research process’. The guidance is split into four areas:

  • Harms & Benefits
  • Privacy & Confidentiality
  • Informed Consent
  • Payment & Compensation

Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia

Applying Voice-Inclusive Practice

This QUT project emphasises voice-inclusive practice, which ‘places children at the centre of inquiry and ensures decision-making processes are informed by an ongoing and open dialogue with children on matters affecting them’. On this webpage, you can learn ways that teachers, schools and other education stakeholders can create voice-inclusive opportunities for learners to participate in education decision-making.