Children's Research Centre

3. Involving children and young people in all stages of research

Research methodologies

Research methodologies bring together a coordinated overall approach to a research project which comprises:
  • The underlying philosophical beliefs about how the researchers view the world (ontology) and the way knowledge is generated (epistemology)
  • Research methods comprising:
    • Data collection methods
    • Data analysis methods
  • Presentation and dissemination of findings
Findings contribute to further research in an ongoing cycle of research and discovery.

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Methodologies with or by children and young people are nowhere near as developed as methodologies to research about children conducted on adult terms, but this is changing (Dahl, 2014). Too often children and young people’s involvement in participatory research is restricted to the collection of data. Far less research for instance engages children and young people in the analysis of their data (Nind, 2011). Lees and Mann (2004, p.43) identify each of the stages of the research process and the way children and young people can be involved:

Children can be involved in any and all of these stages in a range of ways, dependent on what they choose to be involved in. Adult researchers are responsible for making each stage accessible and working with children and young people’s existing capabilities to participate. Examples include:

Young people could be consulted about how they might like to participate; how to identify children who could be involved; what are appropriate research topics, the aims and objectives; what training could be provided and to whom; how to recruit researchers

Young people can help in the detailed research design stage by helping to formulate precise research questions which are relevant and interesting to young people. They can then help to identify and select the sort of data that helps to answer the questions and help to interpret and analyse the data collected from their view of the world as a young person.

Young people can act as peer researchers, carrying out a whole range of fieldwork tasks such as  distributing questionnaires; filling in simple questionnaires with respondents; undertake interviews; facilitate group discussions; carry out structured observation; play games, sing songs etc; promote the research with their peers; act as research assistants, taking part in interviews as an advisor, helping to engage with other children in a positive way; interview professionals and other adults

Young people can help bring together key issues they see arising from the data; write sections of the report; read and comment on draft reports.

Young people can give talks presenting part or all of the research findings; use the research findings to argue for change, if they are made available to them in an accessible form; advise on, and contribute much towards the production of the findings for adult and child audiences; assist in producing materials other than reports, for example plays, videos or posters, dramas etc.

Early planning and development stage

Careful detailed planning of research projects with children and young people is vital to:

  • Set the right approach – a partnership of adult and young people in research roles
  • Ensure every opportunity is identified for children and young people to participate
  • Keeping flexible and responsive to the research situation; to respond to new suggestions about the way to do research; to find alternatives when things don’t work as expected; to take up unforeseen opportunities which might add to the quality of the study.

Setting the right approach to research project

The focus of research with young people should be upon maintaining the most productive research relationship between the adults and young people involved. This involves:

  • Discussing the research and sharing ideas about what the research is about; the interest each of the potential participants have in the research; having a clear idea about the purpose of the research and at least working versions of the research questions – this should be available to share as a reminder for all research members and to help in enrolling people to the research.

GO TO The resources section to find: Preparing a shared research plan

  • Agreeing who should be involved in the research; the roles of each of the people involved and how those young people and adults should be enrolled

GO TO the resources section to find: Preparing research job descriptions and Enrolling research participants.

  • Deciding how adults and children in the research will communicate and manage the project; e.g. how disagreements will be managed

GO TO the resources section to find: Preparing a communication plan for research

Ensuring every opportunity is identified for young people to participate

Identifying all opportunities for young people to participate in research. Here is an example of a research methodology which includes children in every aspect of the research study.

The Research Process Children use the findings to argue for change Children decide on the topic to be researched Children take part in appointing researchers Individual respondents participate actively and can fully express their views Respondents work together to formulate their views Children undertake fieldwork eg interviews Children take part in data analysis, interpretation Children write the report Children present the findings to others Children take part in managing the research process Children design the research The Research Process

Engaging everyone involved in detailed planning and discussion at the start, draws upon the whole research team’s skills, knowledge and experiences, particularly those of young people themselves. Discussion can lead to creative ideas and innovative practice. Different research methods and approaches can lead to the discovery of new and interesting information.

Keeping flexible and responsive to the research situation

Discussion about how the research is being conducted is a part of being reflexive about research which supports the quality and ethical conduct of research.

GO TO:  HOW 1. Reflexivity at the heart of ethical research

Discussion should be a regular feature of all studies because new ideas can emerge about how to research a topic the more the researchers get to know. This will also help the research team to deal with changing circumstances. For instance, many research interviews and focus groups were moved online to accommodate COVID-19 social distancing and lock down rules.  This didn’t stop children and young people sharing their thoughts about topics through their photographs and creative drawings; it also opened up opportunities to contribute and collaborate in new ways like preparing shared mind maps, diagrams and discussion points using shared electronic documents.

Detailed research design stage

Research design focuses upon how data is to be collected and then how data is to be analysed. When choosing data collection and analysis methods, researchers need to keep in mind:
  • the research questions
  • the need to be ethical and sensitive
  • the setting and context of the research
  • any particular needs of the children or young people who will participate (Fargas-Malet et al., 2010)
A variety of data collection and data analysis tools have been developed which might particularly suit children and young people in research. There is no one ‘correct’ way of collecting or analysing data. The two key principles to keep in mind are:
  • Qualitative data collection is about collecting sufficient information which is both reliable and relevant for answering the research question(s)
  • Qualitative data analysis is about reviewing information gathered in an unbiased way to identify patterns and potential themes or narratives which help to answer the research question(s).
GO TO: HOW Section 2 Considerations and practicalities of planning and conducting high quality research. General considerations about research methods with young people include:
  • Being mindful and open to the time and scheduling constraints young people have in their lives; the period of time young people wish to engage in data collection
  • Creating an open and informal atmosphere
  • Stressing the point that there are no right or wrong answers (and reiterate this message during data collection as appropriate)
  • The use of questions and language which are age appropriate clear and understandable
  • Adults checking assumptions that young people will interpret research questions or data collected in a particular way it is important to keep checking what you think the respondent means with what they actually mean
  • Piloting of data collection and analysis methods is essential.
(Adapted from Guidelines for Research with Children and Young People Catherine Shaw, Louca-Mai Brady and Ciara Davey, NCB, 2011, p.20)

Data collection tools in research

People engaged in research are each individuals with different enthusiasms, skills and experiences and should not be treated as one group who we assume all think in the same ways and like to do things in the same way.  However young people have helped to develop data collection tools which have resulted in successful insightful research findings and extended the range of ways that data is collected in research studies. These are characterised by:
  • Creative ways of generating data about a topic under investigation e.g. using photography and making videos of the topic; drawing pictures to represent thoughts and feelings towards a topic; creating and enacting stories; conducting walking tours of research ‘spaces’
  • Adaptions to ‘traditional’ data collection methods including surveys, interviews and focus groups for instance:
    • Surveys which use pictures to pose questions and emoji faces to show levels of agreement with statements
    • Active surveys which even small children can complete by standing next to their answer choice as a group activity
    • Interviews which focus upon young people’s own photographs/videos/art to prompt discussion of a topic and generate more information about a topic
  • Multiple data collection methods using different types and ways of collecting data within one study e.g. using the “Mosaic” approach to researching with very young children; “Photovoice” used successfully in Youth Action Research

Creative ways of generating data

Things to remember when thinking creatively about generating data:

  • The objective of data collection is to provide sufficient, relevant information to answer the research questions
  • Qualitative research questions ask open questions to get a range of different answers (rather than closed questions that measure or count answers)
  • Qualitative research is most often interested in finding out people’s views, experiences and feelings about a topic.
Why use creative ways of generating data?
  • Thinking in different ways about topics can prompt people to recall things differently; come to new understandings.
  • People can take their knowledge and understanding about things for granted and perhaps not think it worthwhile mentioning
  • Sometimes people are embarrassed or concerned about expressing what they actually think because it may be different to what they hear others around them say. Finding a less direct way to represent their thoughts feels ‘safer’ for instance choosing or taking photographs about topic which represents their opinions and views.
  • It can be fun and an exciting way of discovering something about ourselves, about our thoughts and feelings about topics we don’t generally think about!
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