Increased recognition of children and young people’s agency to construct and then communicate their views heard is key to revealing new insights through research.
Recognising young people’s agency has implications for both adult practitioners and young people themselves:
Accept that young people are capable of forming their own views about the world
Acknowledge the relevance of those views
Actively listen and consult
Respond positively to the views and information they receive
Recognise their role in building positive communities by contributing their views
Think about and prepare their views on matters that are important to them
Build confidence to share their views
Recognising young people’s agency is only a start:
“Agency represents the fulfilment of participation and voice in which children and young people’s views are taken into consideration to inform policy and practice, for example, and to make changes that can impact on their lives.”
Young people must be empowered to contribute their thoughts and views. This is achieved in research when adults share decision making and power over the conduct of research as we shown in the SPECTRUM of research approaches
There are different ways in which adult researchers can empower young people in research. The nature of power sharing will depend upon such issues as:
The role children and young people want to take in research
The nature of the research question
Young people’s empowerment to participate in research
More recently concern has been expressed about claims that enabling children and young people as researchers is in itself empowering. This is potentially an over simplification without sufficient conceptualisation of what such empowerment involves and how it happens (Kim, 2016). The tendency to show different participatory approaches on a continuum has perhaps led to an unhelpful view that child-led research in which children and young people have greatest independence and power over the choice of topic and way in which research is carried out is a ‘gold standard’ to which all adults researching with children and young people should aspire. A more helpful approach is posited by Thomas and O’Kane (2007) who suggest the strongest research is that which takes into account both the views of the children or young people and those of the adults participating.
Adult researchers in particular should continually consider increased power sharing over research processes to secure the benefits of participatory research. Furthermore, Michael Wyness (Wyness 2012) argues that there is no such thing as an unmediated child voice, just as there is no unmediated adult voice; adults, children and young people all rely on each other to express their understandings of the world.
The positive impact of empowerment for young people
The Children's Research Centre has pioneered approaches for supporting child-led research, which has grown considerably in the last ten years. They have identified a range of benefits, for young people participating and leading research including: