Fora da Caixa - Outside the box




November 19- March 20

Initial date


Final date


Type of experience

participatory budgeting participatory planning


local development training social inclusion childhood and youth


SDG 11 SDG 16



Fora da Caixa (Outside the box) is a participatory project that aims to revisit educational institutions in a creative way, getting children to reflect on their school, their parish and the municipality. The project is designed in such a way that children are not only protagonists, but builders of the whole process. This initiative allows participants to learn about the democratic process, to discuss ideas, to understand common interests and goals.


Among the objectives mentioned in the project, the most important one is to increase the rights of citizens in terms of political participation, because with the project the municipality intends to strengthen the role of the children of the pre-school and primary school in building a more participatory school, community and municipality.

  • To achieve higher levels of equality in terms of participation and to incorporate diversity as a criterion for inclusion.
  • Community empowerment 
  • Empowering unorganised citizens
  • Increasing citizens' rights in terms of political participation
  • Connecting different participation tools in a participatory democracy 'ecosystem
  • Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of participatory democracy mechanisms


The key to the project is the public who participated. Fora da Caixa is an innovative project in several ways. The first is the target audience: public aged 3 to 10. Children are usually excluded from the decision-making process of collective life, their opinions or decisions are often conditioned or blocked by adults, which deprives them of the possibility to participate. The Fora da Caixa project centres decisions on the children, they decide what they want to talk about and the role of adults is reduced to that of facilitators. 


Children, including those in the selected age groups, are important social actors and it is extremely important that they have the opportunity to participate in the discussion of issues that interest them. The second innovation is the live participation of grade 4 children in town hall meetings. This participation contributes to a better understanding of the political process in their area, bringing them closer to the exercise of local power. It is worth noting that the other participants in the project follow the session at school, as it is broadcast live. 



In addition to the participating public, the work of the teachers and operational assistants in the schools involved is essential. These elements help to motivate and frame the topic for the students. On the municipal side, two higher education technicians are involved. A senior education technician, who coordinates the project, makes the contacts and implements the moments with the students (acting as a facilitator of the participatory process), and a senior communication technician, who ensures the shooting and editing of the videos and the execution of the other communication elements of the project. At the town hall meeting, all members of the municipal executive, the public and the technicians (sound and image) are involved. The parish councils also play an important role, as they are responsible for transporting the public to the meetings and are also involved in implementing the tasks/proposals requested by the pupils. Many of them are for the benefit of the school and the parish itself. It should be noted that with the transfer of competences to the municipalities, everything concerning the basic schools has been delegated by the municipality to the parish councils, hence their close relationship with the school. This project has led to an increase in public participation in the public meetings at the town hall, including parents of the pupils concerned.


The municipality of Torres Vedras has a population of approximately 79,465 (2011 census), of which 18% is from school (2019/2020). Of these 14,358, 36.5% are in pre-school (3-6 years old) and 1st cycle basic education (6-10 years old) and these are the main targets of this project. 


From the outset, the project was designed to be itinerant and to reach as many people as possible, thus ensuring that the students involved are representative. Until now, and since the project was interrupted by the pandemic, the parishes involved were the parishes of the Parish Union of Freiria, Maxial and Monte Redondo and the parish of Ponte do Rol. In the parish of Freiria, 73 children in the first cycle and 30 pre-school children were involved, in the parish of Maxial and Monte Redondo 74 children in the first cycle and 55 pre-school children, and in the parish of Ponte do Rol 90 children in the first cycle and 50 pre-school children. In addition to the children, the project includes all the teaching and non-teaching staff of the respective schools. 


The school clusters play an important role, as they are an excellent link between the municipality, school coordinators, school directors and parish councils, in order to organise the whole project. The clusters, together with the coordinators, organise the dates of the project and all the necessary procedures. The head teachers prepare the theme to be worked on with the children beforehand, in order to receive the team and know how to act in a town hall meeting, as well as after the project working on the theme of public participation. Then, the role of the parish council and the municipality is to evaluate the pupils' proposals and find a solution for them. 



Fora da Caixa is a project that includes children in the decision-making process. Throughout history, children have been excluded from political participation. In contemporary societies, children's point of view is devalued, whether it is the discussion of their role in society, their intervention and participation in issues that concern them or that affect them directly. This project therefore works on a challenge that is transversal to all municipalities: to give children a voice, to enable them to be social actors with the right to participate in issues that concern them. The methodology chosen is in itself an example of success among the participants and transferable to other practices. In designing this project, it was taken into account that all children have their own language which is not always understandable by adults. The central objective was therefore to make this language understandable to decision-makers. This concept can be applied to other levels of education and even to other recipients who may not have the possibility or facility to use normal communication channels, such as the elderly.


As children have historically been one of the social groups most excluded from their political rights, societies that include this group in collective decision-making spaces are rare.  Often, the relationships established between adults and children result in the devaluation of their knowledge and experience. Primary school children are among the age groups that have less say in political life. This project values children's opinions and enables children aged 3 to 10 to play an active role in their daily lives, in their schools and in their neighbourhoods. Decision-makers have received concrete and constructive proposals that show that it is possible for children (even the youngest) to participate actively in the decision-making process. Fora da Caixa, created a space for participation, where children were encouraged to talk, listen to each other and discuss ideas that contribute to the common good. At the local level, it is important to consider children as active citizens who can, and should, play a very important role in the design of 'learning cities'.


As Fora da Caixa is a project based on education for active citizenship, it contains several educational and training elements that link children (the main targets), the educational community, the municipality's technicians and the political decision-makers (the presidents of the parish councils and the municipal executive). The project promotes discussion and reflection, from the child's point of view, on themes such as the organisation of public space, school buildings, street furniture, mobility, environmental problems, etc. It also allows pupils to have a better understanding of the environment and to learn more about the environment. It also gives the public a first contact with the political and administrative organisation of a municipal body. The project also allows all participants to recognise that children's participation bears the imprint of their ideas and that decision-makers must be able to interpret and respond to these citizens' wishes. The municipal council decided to decentralise the meetings from the town hall and travel to the 13 parishes in the municipality, in order to give all citizens the opportunity to participate in these meetings. 



Phases of the process 


1- In the first phase, the technicians of the municipality (from the fields of education and communication) go to the school with the "Box", a symbolic object that brings a playful component to the participatory process, which links to the imaginary of the game and disinhibits the children to participate. After the moment of adaptation to the scenario and exploration of the object, the technicians play the role of facilitators: they contextualise the objectives and ensure that a space is built for the participants to verbalise their ideas, reasons and conclusions about their vision of the school, the parish and the city. The discussion is centred on the concept of school and community in which the participating children reflect on what could be improved and what decisions they would make to achieve this. The result of this activity is recorded on video.

2- In a second step, the class teachers join the process by helping the pupils to write a "manifesto", based on the previous conversation. This document is presented by the 4th graders to the municipal executive. 

3- The third phase takes place at the public meeting of the municipal executive, which is held in each of the parishes of the participating schools. At the beginning of the town hall meeting, the mayor welcomes the pupils and presents the video (the result of the first phase of the project). Then, the floor is given to a student representing the class, who reads the manifesto to the executive. Finally, the President takes the floor, giving his opinion on the children's work, without forgetting to inform that they will have the municipality's response to their manifesto. This meeting is broadcast online, and the other pupils who participated watch it live in class. The fourth and final phase is the implementation of the suggestions/demands that have been outlined by the students. 


The participation of an under-represented audience is at the heart of Fora da Caixa, this project proves the viability and importance of involving young people in the decision-making process. The representativeness and opinions of these groups of citizens must be taken into account because of their relevance, and it is up to policy makers to know how to interpret their language and wishes.  


The whole project has been designed to make children feel involved and that they are the main actors in the process. Starting with the scenario - the box - which creates an informal environment, promotes the deconstruction of the process of discussing ideas, and ending with the act of participating in a meeting of the municipal executive, one of the decision-making bodies of the territory.  Another important part is the response received, through the satisfaction of their demands, providing a positive reinforcement of the process in which they participated. 


Fora da Caixa will continue to promote participation in the municipality of Torres Vedras and may be transferred to other territories. The continuity of the project will bear fruit in the long term, creating a more participatory community.


The proof that the objective has been achieved comes not only from the results obtained, but also from the success of the methodology adopted. One of the results to be highlighted is the fulfilment of the demands resulting from the students' exhibitions to the municipal executive.  Today, the participating children can recognise that it was their participation in a political activity that enabled them to have the actions and materials they requested in their school. To date, of the 80 proposals presented by the children, 17 have been implemented, including the installation of basketball tables, the purchase of gym equipment, swings, changes to the menus (for example, the introduction of "cozido à portuguesa" (Portuguese stew) in the menus), the purchase of dehumidifiers, heaters, games, improvement of the Internet network, etc. It should be noted that some of the students' requests involved the construction of a bicycle path, the adoption of a dog, a chicken coop, a swimming pool with a water slide, among other feasible proposals. On the other hand, this objective was also achieved in that the political decision-makers (the chairmen of the parish councils and the members of the municipal executive) were made aware that when children are called upon to intervene politically, they do so in a constructive manner. 


Monitoring and evaluation  


Monitoring and evaluation of the Fora da Caixa project took place throughout the process, but was mainly informal. Data for a positive evaluation was drawn from the feedback of participants (children, teachers, educational assistants, parents and decision-makers) throughout the project. However, one evaluation tool was used with the teachers who participated in the project: a questionnaire. The questionnaire was applied in order to assess the relevance of the project.

All respondents were teachers of the 1st cycle of primary education, and 100% of the respondents considered that the participation of their pupils in the project was an added value. All respondents also rated the relevance of the theme and the methodology adopted as very good. Regarding innovation and student involvement, 80% of respondents rated it as very good and 20% as good. When asked if they would participate in the project with their students again, all teachers surveyed answered in the affirmative. (results of the questionnaire). The implementation of the proposals approved by the executive was also monitored. So far, 17 proposals submitted by the children have been implemented, including: installation of basketball tables, purchase of gym equipment, swings, change of menus, introduction of seasonal fruits in the menus, purchase of dehumidifiers, heaters, games, improvement of the internet network, etc.



Sources (in Portuguese): 


Application form


Results of the questionnaire 


Website of the Municipality 


More information about the project