Children's Research Centre
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1. Involving young people to create better research

Recognising young people’s expertise is one of the TRREEE principles guiding research with children and young people at The Open University. It is also a way of creating better research. By revealing:
  • Different views and understandings of the subject being researched
  • More effective ways of researching a subject
  • More relevant questions
  • Matters to research which are important to young people
  • Sources of ongoing support for research
Illustration of a mentor and a young person

Young people continue to tell us that they don’t feel listened to. Some say that their views are not asked for. Others say that even when they are asked for their views they are ignored. However, there are also increasing examples of young people doing research. There are more opportunities for young people to take part in research activities. More opportunities to suggest research activities. These are ways of making your views known.

You do not need to be highly skilled to get involved in doing research. The most important things to get started are:

  • Your day-to-day lived experiences, knowledge and understanding of the world
  • Curiosity about the world in general and perhaps about something specific
  • A willingness to:
    • Think deeply about topics which concern you and others
    • Share your thinking with others
    • Be open to changing your mind as you deepen your knowledge and understanding of something
  • Being sensitive and respectful of other people’s views

By contributing to research young people can contribute to matters which affect their lives and the lives of other children and young people. This might be things which govern what you can and cannot do at school/college, at work or in leisure time activities. It might be about broader issues which affect your whole family, your community or more broadly still.

It is difficult for young people to understand the world from an adult’s point of view. It is also difficult for adults to understand the world from a young person’s point of view. Young people have unique and important knowledge and understanding to share with adults. They also have the skills to contribute to research. Young people can make research better by taking part in research and sharing their view of the world.

Projects which involve children and young people in the way research is designed and conducted can produce findings that surprise adults. When children and young people plan and undertake their own research projects, or work with adults to design research projects, children’s own views and understandings of the subject of investigation are embedded in research processes. The results can mean that adults have better understandings of children and young people’s experiences (Bucknall 2010) and also better understandings of the communities in which children live.

There are many examples of children and young people showing high degrees of competence as co-researchers, carrying out research projects chosen by adults (French et al 2019) and also of research projects successfully chosen and led by children and young people of different ages and abilities (Kellett, 2010b, 2011; Bucknall, 2009)

Key research competencies are social experience and familiarity with the issues under investigation Children and young people’s research competence can be seen as different to but not necessarily lesser than adult competence (Solberg 1996; Christensen and Prout 2002). The unique lived experience of being a child may give added value to the conduct of research in matters which affect children.

Some topics chosen by young people may not register with an adult as being of interest whilst young people find them highly relevant. Engaging children and young people in the selection of research topics and the development of research questions can make research better because it is more relevant.

In short, recognising young people’s expertise and capability and engaging young people in research could provide you/your organisation with a valuable ongoing source of rich data upon which to plan and deliver your services.

Explore some of the following examples of research with and by children and young people. As you do consider the impact of young people on the research. You could use these questions to help you:

  • How were children and young people involved in the study? What did they do?
  • How did young people contribute to the way research was carried out? For instance, how was data collected and was this a good method for the young people involved?
  • What were the young people’s views about the topic? Were these the same or different to the views adults generally have?
  • Did the way the topic was studied help the young people state their point of view?
  • Did young people help to prepare the research questions? Were the research questions interesting for young people?
  • Could other young people help with this sort of research in other places?

GO TO your ‘Helping people do their research’ or ‘Doing research’ journal if you would like to record your thoughts

  • Did young people contribute insights different to the way the topic is usually discussed?
  • Did young people influence the way the topic was researched? For example were unusual methods of data collection used? If so how and what was the impact on the research?
  • Were research questions provided or influenced by young people? If so were the questions different to the sort of questions that adults generally ask and how?
  • Was the topic important to the young people? Would adult researchers have naturally chosen to research the topic / research the topic in this way?
  • Does this research demonstrate how young people can support valuable research on an ongoing or broader basis?

You will see young people’s interests in research span further than their immediate lived experiences to community matters and beyond. This list is a small example of the wide range of research topics young people have undertaken with The Open University. A fuller list of topics that children have chosen spans issues in education, learning, physical and mental health, gender, the environment and more (Bucknall, 2010).

Examples of research with and by children and young people

Research with Children

Plan International, 2017

Real Choices, Real Lives: Girls' Burden of Unpaid Care: Executive Summary

"I like to climb and pick coconuts"

Moving towards a child-guided agentic participatory research methodology :7-11 years children's experiences of physical activity.

Research by Children

A range of reports from children as part of the OU Children's Research Centre who have carried out their own research

Boy and girl at desk

Research with Young People

Hold the phone!

Culturally credible research 'with' young people. Wilkinson, 2016

Southern Cross University, Australia

Centre for Children and Young People

Research by Young People

Open House Co-Research Project

Project by ten young researchers and three youth workers from Youthscape in Luton investigating youth loneliness and social action

An invisible group

Young people's experiences of living with a loved one who is seriously ill

Listen to one young person

Ellie Jones speaks about how young people can participate in community, research and policy driven projects

Young People
Audio Diary Recording

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