Telia Children’s Advisory Panel: Giving Children a Voice About Their Online Lives

Written by Heddy Ring of Telia Company

As part of Telia Company’s business strategy, one of our sustainability key impact areas is Digital Inclusion, where Telia is committed to providing access to reliable connectivity and increasing its users’ digital skills to achieve digital equality and inclusion.

Telia Company is a telecommunications service provider, with children and young people being active users of our services. Our commitment and responsibility are to respect and support children’s and young people’s rights to participation, protection, and well-being. We work on our own and with experienced partners to protect and empower children and young people online. As practical guidance, we have committed to implement the Children’s Rights and Business Principles.

As a result of our materiality analysis in 2015, we realised keeping children safe online, empowering children through digitalisation, and fighting the negative impacts online are very important for our stakeholders, and we need to step up our work and create changes at a higher level. In order to integrate children’s rights into our business and provide guidance to families, we needed to understand children’s experiences through their own voices. Children and young people have the right to be listened to, and adults do not necessarily know much about children’s experiences or lives online. This is why we decided to let them explain to us, in their own way, the role the internet plays in their lives, and their views on specific online aspects. Regularly, we hold a Children’s Advisory Panel (CAP) where, with World Childhood Foundation, local children’s rights organisations, and in collaboration with schools, we ask young internet users about their lives online.

The main challenge initially was convincing everyone in the business that it was a good idea. The child rights focus prior to CAP had been protection, and some concerns were raised related to the risks involved in engaging with children, ensuring children’s safety, and the benefits for participating children. To overcome this challenge, there were discussions with the management to consider the risks involved in engaging with children in the business. It was important to come from a perspective that views children’s participation as an opportunity to listen to children and hear what they think. Providing a clear outline of the process for engaging with children and highlighting the benefits of including children has ensured a strong management commitment to children’s participation.

Benefits of Children’s Participation

In Telia Company, we believe the benefits of children’s participation to the business include:

  • Improved understanding of children as users of our services.
  • Better services and online experiences for children.
  • Inspiration and content for new resources for family customers and schools.
  • Improved motivation and commitment to children’s rights for our employees and opportunities to share our research with peers and be seen as experts in this field.

How Do We Engage with Children about Their Online Lives?

We are keen to ensure children’s participation is meaningful and useful for the participating children. We wanted to create a transparent process to collect children’s views and ensure these views have an influence across the business. CAP is a combination of qualitative and quantitative study we carry out once a year. In total, about 4,000 children have participated in the co-creative workshops, and more than 12,000 children and young people have participated via digital surveys since 2016. We have engaged with children and young people about their experiences with privacy, healthy life online, online gaming, digital learning and misinformation online, among other topics.

To share their online experiences, children participate in co-creative workshops carried out by Telia volunteers (Telia employees, trained by World Childhood Foundation and the research company). We also have a Telia child safeguarding routine in place they need to follow. During the workshops, the children use digital tools (such as an animation software or digital whiteboarding platform) in small groups to share stories about their experiences on specific online topics. It is important that the workshops are fun, creative, and useful for children and that they learn through participation.

In addition, we carry out a digital survey among children on the same topic. Parental consent is asked before the child responds to a survey. In Baltic countries, the survey is also available in Russian language for minority children, and the survey always ends with contacts of the local child helpline.

The inputs from children both from the workshops and the survey are carefully collected, translated, and analysed by a professional research company and combined into a full report and a presentation of the results that we publish and share internally and externally.

Insights from Children’s Participation

We communicate the results across our markets. Depending on the topic, we discuss the insights from children with different teams within the company to utilise the results in our work in Telia. We use the insights to prepare educational materials for our digital skills programs, and we share the insights from children with our business and family customers, industry associations, and other stakeholders.

For example, the results of Children’s Advisory Panel focusing on children’s online gaming experiences were applied in various ways:

  • We reached approximately 220 000 people in related communication efforts.
  • In collaboration with Save the Children Finland, we developed advice materials for family customers.
  • Responsible online gaming guidelines for Telia Company. As Telia Company continues to increase its involvement in e-sports and gaming, it will be doing so with the benefit of guidelines for responsible digital gaming developed in collaboration with Save the Children Finland. The guidelines ensure Telia Company approaches these services responsibly and takes children’s experiences into account.
  • In Sweden, we carried out a successful marketing campaign using insights from CAP that children want parents/adults to be involved and understand their online lives. It was accompanied by messages about the importance of spending time with children playing online , showing responsibility.
  • Engagement of employees- during Safer Internet Day, we carried out responsible online gaming events for employees and their children to play together, listened to discussions with pro esports players, and reflected on the online gaming guidelines in all our markets. Employees who have volunteered to carry out CAP workshops have become more aware and more engaged in children’s rights issues related to their work.

Challenges and Development Over Time

We have faced various challenges over time, such as the need for recruiting employees to volunteer leading the workshops in school classes, making sure the child safeguarding processes are in place to ensure the safety of the participating children, and finding ways to include children who belong to minority groups. Over time, we have made progress on the strategic priorities to improve children’s participation, for example, better engagement and training of our employees in carrying out the workshops, development, and implementation of child safeguarding procedures, making sure minority children are included and collaborating with local children’s rights organisations.

COVID19 has presented another set of challenges. For example, during 2020, the schools in most markets were closed, and children studied from home during the time we had initially planned to carry out the school workshops. We had to react quickly, change the concept, and carry out the study digitally. We decided to focus on children’s experiences with digital learning to understand the changing environment and the impacts on children. To be aligned with the changing times, for 2021 CAP, we prepared to carry out the co-creative workshops in school classes as well as digitally using MS Teams in case some countries opted for digital schooling due to the pandemic during the period we had planned for the workshops. We continue to develop the concept further to stay relevant and find the best ways to give children a voice about their online experiences.

How to Start with Children’s Participation in Business?

For businesses that consider starting with children’s participation, based on our child participation journey, we would recommend starting with building commitment throughout the business, especially at senior management level, through internal communication and children’s rights training. Think about your business and what you hope to achieve from involving children. It is useful to engage with child rights experts through partnerships with children’s rights organisations that have the expertise to support you. Be curious and open to learning from children. Don’t just do it as a formality, but really listen to children and young people and try to understand their perspectives. It will be valuable, and you can use it in many ways to improve the business and the lives of children.