Involve Young People

Build Evidence:

Research with young people

Research with young people creates an evidence base to demonstrate outcomes. Projects and services are improved when young people are meaningfully involved in research. It builds evidence to demonstrate outcomes to funders and influence policymakers. Participatory research allows young people to study a community issue and advocate for change based on their findings.

There are a few different ways to runparticipatory research with young people – thelevel of young people’s involvement can varybased on what you’re all trying to achieve. Different types of research with young people include:

  • Young people just as participants.
  • Young people contributing to the design and direction of the research, then others carrying out the research.
  • Young people designing and carrying out the research in partnership with others.
  • Young people designing and carry out the research themselves (this is sometimes called peer research or participatory action research - read more about this below)
Ethics and consent

Any piece of research with young people needs to consider ethical issues – is there any risk of harm for those involved? Can young people give informed consent to take part? How will privacy and confidentiality be addressed?

You won’t always need parental consent for young people under 18 to take part in research. Sometimes it might not be possible for young people to go home and get their parent or caregiver to sign a consent form, and come back. If you do feel you need adult consent, it might be better to try and get their verbal consent over the phone.

In any case, you’ll need to judge whether these young people are mature and comfortable enough to take part, and understand what the research is for and what will happen with their data. Take a look at the ethics, safeguarding and consent article to help this through some more.

Power dynamics

In any research involving young people, there can be a number of different levels of power present. This can affect how young people participate in the research and the research findings. Be aware of the power of adults over young people, the power of young people over one another and the power of location of research (for example, if young people researching their school).

If you’re working with young researchers, you’ll need to strike a balance between supporting them to and managing (or controlling) them. Be honest about what the research can actually achieve.

Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Action Research is a reflective, problem solving research process. Participatory Action Research (PAR) allows young people who are directly affected by an issue to become co-researchers to study it, then advocate for change based on their findings. PAR helps young people engage with their community by:

  • defining community issues and building knowledge about community needs,
  • forming their own opinions about the causes and effects of the issues, and
  • working together with other young people and adults to respond to the issues.

Other benefits of PAR are:

  • increased diversity -when young people interview their friends (and friends of friends) it broadens the groups of young people involved;
  • skills building – young researchers develop literacy, literacy, numeracy, communication, and strategic thinking skills;
  • networking – young researchers build contacts that can help them to access to career and leadership networks;
  • peer leadership - young people can be inspired to take action themselves when see their friends researching and advocating for change.
Top tips for successful youth research projects:
  • have clear expectations – develop clear aims and objectives and goals. Know how much commitment is required and work to a timeline.
  • develop skills and interests – offer young people training in research skills and make use of creative media, creative activities like music, video, photography, art or drama
  • celebrate and spread the results – let people know what you’ve found out by writing a report and launching it at a special event.
  • help young people understand how their research relates to their lives and their communities - use this knowledge to maintain interest and energy.
  • help young people make research decisions by offering structure and providing guidance (young researchers don’t have to do everything themselves!).
What you can do now

Berg Powers, C. and Allaman, E. (2012),How Participatory Action Research Can Promote

Social Change and Help Youth Development, Born This Way Foundation and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Fieldgrass, L. (2011), Mobile Matters: The Youth Advocates Project. Developing

a youth participatory action research and advocacy program, Sydney: Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Geldens, P. and Randall, L. (2012), ‘Sounds like a plan: Engaging young people in research and community planning’, Research 101(a) Involving young people in research.

Kellett, M. (2010), Rethinking Children and Research: Attitudes in Contemporary Society, London: Continuum.

Kay, E., Tisdall, M., Davis, J., and Gallagher, M. (2009), Researching with Children and Young People, London: Sage.

Office of Public Management (OPM) (2010), Creative Influence - Research led by young people, London: OPM.

Segal, S. and Randall, L. (2013), Youth led research as an advocacy tool, Melbourne: YACVic.

te Riele, K. (2012), Complexity and consent: the ethics of researching youth, The Conversation.

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