Children's Research Centre
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Research with and by Children and Young People

1. Reflexivity at the heart of ethical research

Reflexivity can help to address the complexities of maintaining ethical considerations of research, particularly the power imbalance which often exists in adult-child relationships involved in research by and with children and young people. As children become increasing involved in the research process there is a need for adults to proactively adopt a reflexive approach.

Reflexivity is about being transparent and self-aware about your values, beliefs, culture, politics; and what you think and feel during the research process, which might influence how you conduct the research and interpret the findings. It is defined as:

“a critical approach... that questions how knowledge is generated and, further, how relations of power influence the processes of knowledge generation”

DCruz et al., 2007

In other words, reflexivity in research is a process of continuous self-questioning. Good practice leads the researcher to ask questions both of themselves and of the research situation in planning and throughout conducting research:

About the researcher his/herself:

  • What are my views/experiences of children and young people’s understanding of the world? Am I confident about children and young people’s capability to participate in research/ in this research to provide valuable and informed insights and views?
  • What are my views/experience of the research topic/issue being researched?
  • How might my views/experiences impact the way I plan and conduct the research; how I respond to coresearcher/participants?

Leading to the overall question:
How might I manage any bias (known or unknown) that I may bring to the research process?

Researcher questioning themself

About the research topic:

  • What potential impact might the topic of the research have upon young people? Is the topic sensitive in any way? Could it cause embarrassment or make a young person unhappy?
  • Is it possible that researching this topic could lead the young person to reveal things they would not wish? For instance does the topic touch upon, what young people do in their leisure time, teenage drinking or drug habits, their opinions about school/teaching?

Leading to the overall question:
How should the topic be framed and introduced – what assurance must I be prepared to give?

About the research situation:

  • Does the location of research have any negative associations or might it cause a young person to act in a particular way? For instance, what might be the impact of locating data collection in school where children and young people are accustomed to respecting and complying with adult teacher views?
  • Who else is involved in the organisation and conduct of research? Who are the gatekeepers on route to meeting and inviting children and young people to take part in research? What ongoing role should they have if any?
  • Will other people be aware of the young person’s participation – are they comfortable with that? For instance, some young people may be pleased to be seen by their peers to be taking part in research.  Others may not. How will you respect their privacy?

Leading to the overall question:
How might I reduce or remove potential aspects of the research location which might impact young people’s sense of agency to participate in the research?

During and throughout research the researcher should continue to ask themselves:

  • Does the child/young person appear comfortable when we are working together?
  • Do they appear to be giving freely of their views and making suggestions about the research process? Importantly, are they comfortable disagreeing with me?
  • Are research activities fulfilling the participants’ expectations/aspirations?
  • Are any participants hesitant about any aspect of the research process?

Practitioners

If you are an adult practitioner GO TO your ‘Thinking about research with young people journal’ to consider how you will apply ethical principles to your and your organisation’s research.

Young People

If you are a young person GO TO your ‘Helping people do their research’ or ‘Doing research’ journal to record your thoughts about how to contribute to ethical research. 

If you have completed your thinking about the ethics of research with young people GO TO 2. Considerations and practicalities of planning and conducting high quality research

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