Research with children and young people

NCRM news
Dr Laura Shobiye, Cardiff University
Children and an adult sitting around a table writing in notebooksChildren and an adult sitting around a table writing in notebooks

The final webinar in the 2023 Critical Conversations series was focused on research with children and young people. The conversations started with lightning talks from Sohila Sawhney from Barnardo’s, Sadiyya Haffejee from the University of Johannesburg, and Anya Pretty from Essex County Council.

The lightening talkers

Sohila talked us through work in the third sector, emphasising the need to deepen our practices. She highlighted how young people as research participants often make us think twice and question our assumptions and the knowledge we thought we had. She finished by reminding us that being inclusive and encouraging others to be inclusive is often not easy, so sometimes we need to assume the role of an agitator to be persuasive.

Sadiya shared details of a specific project with Black African girls in rural communities. The project ran over three to four years and collaboratively developed an advocacy campaign against forced marriage. The team created digital stories for engagement and dissemination as part of a programme involving community dialogues. The team also developed a protocol collaboratively with the communities.

Anya gave us insights into her work as a care-experienced peer researcher. She focused on some of the barriers for participation in research, such as fear of the consequences of what is said. She emphasised that time is needed to build trust to overcome barriers such as fear. Anya finished by highlighting that lived experiences are crucial pieces of research puzzles and the process of peer research must involve working together: “not one group being better than others”.

Breakout Room Conversations

Following the thought-provoking and inspiring lightening talks, each of the speakers led a discussion in a breakout room. I moved between rooms and found that leaving each discussion felt like a wrench, just to find myself in the middle of yet another brilliant conversation.

Sohila kicked off the discussion in her room by reminding us of the final points she made in her talk: communication to non-researchers is tough and we need both insights and validity. The group went on to talk more about what we could and should consider “valid” insights, recognising that we often need to leave our assumptions and existing knowledge behind to actively listen and take on board what young people tell us about their experiences.

When I joined Sadiyya’s room there was interest in how the outputs from the project she’d outlined were received by the community. She advised that their three to four years of working with the community really helped as there was the time to develop relationships beyond the immediate needs of the project. The community came to trust the researchers over that period of time, resulting in positive reception of the project’s outputs. 
Anya was full of practical tips. She told us: 

  • Build a relationship first, at least a little, before asking for research participation
  • Make sure they are both ready to participate and are willingly volunteering their time
  • Games and focused exercises are more likely to stimulate discussion or dialogue with a young person than simply sitting and asking questions.

She was full of pearls of wisdom such as “it’s the way you go about it”, referring to approaches to recruitment, creating data and the need for researchers to undertake engaging and reciprocal approaches. 

Recurring themes

Across all three talks and the discussions there was a focus on the importance of building relationships; this is vital and it takes time! I found that reciprocity was also discussed in all three breakout rooms in different ways. Anya emphasised making the research process fun and engaging. Sadiyya expressed the importance of research outputs that a community and young people can share on public platforms and use themselves. Sadiyya shared the perspective of value – the social value of the research for the future and making participants feel valued. All three speakers emphasised the importance of active listening, giving young participants and communities the opportunity to feed back and ask questions thought the entire process. I thought the reminder of the importance of active listening was an excellent one for us all to take away from the final Critical Conversations webinar of the 2023 series.

Final Thoughts

The lightening talkers across both series have provided fantastic insights for us to reflect on and consider how they relate to our own work.  Many of the speakers’ words resonated for me, with criticism in literature on the concept of “hard to reach” asylum seekers and refugees. Often researchers need to consider both how and why they are trying to reach participants and make the effort to adjust their approaches, rather than assuming a group of people is simply reluctant to engage.

Read other blog posts about webinars in the Critical Conversations series