By Amy Ashlee
The Voices of Refugee Youth research study adopts a youth-centred methodology that has young refugees’ voices at its heart. When designing and implementing this methodology, we considered a range of factors to ensure meaningful youth involvement. This blog discusses some of these factors, highlighting the many benefits of engaging young people’s voices in research and some important ethical considerations.
Why do young people’s voices matter in research?
All children and young people have the right to participate in matters affecting their lives. This is enshrined by Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – an international legal instrument that sets out the rights of every child across the world, including refugee children .
Involving young people in research is one of the ways that this right to participation can be realised . Through listening to and incorporating young people’s views and experiences, research can help to make sure young people’s voices are heard by decision-makers.
How can young people’s voices be engaged in research?
There are broadly two approaches that can be taken to involving young people in research:
- Engaging young people as research participants. Through this approach, young people share their thoughts and views by taking part in surveys, interviews, focus groups and other methods of data collection.
- Engaging young people as peer researchers. This approach gives young people a deeper level of participation in research. Participation may include collecting and analysing data from other young people and community members.
The Voices of Refugee Youth research study uses both of these approaches. See the What is Voices of Refugee Youth page for more information.
What are the benefits of a youth-centred methodology?
There are lots of benefits of engaging young people’s voices in research, both for the young people involved and for the quality of research. By involving young people as both participants and peer researchers, Voices of Refugee Youth hopes to ensure a wide range of benefits.
Benefits for young people
Research that involves young people as participants has the potential to be a positive and empowering experience for young participants. This is particularly the case if research builds on young people’s abilities, gives them a safe space to share their opinions and have their voices heard, and treats them with respect .
There are also benefits of involving young people as peer researchers. The ongoing training of peer researchers is important: it provides them with the opportunity to learn new skills and knowledge, including on research methodologies . This involvement can also provide opportunities for young people to address inequalities in their society, including in education , and may increase young people’s self-confidence and resilience .
Improving the quality of research
Young people’s voices also improve the quality of research. Young people are often best placed to understand and describe the key issues that affect them; without involving them as research participants, there is the risk that the research will provide an incomplete and, sometimes, inaccurate picture of young people’s lives .
Additionally, learnings from previous research studies  suggest that involving young people as peer researchers can encourage more honest and accurate responses from research participants. Young people may feel more confident discussing their experiences with their peers than with adult researchers.
What are the ethical considerations when engaging young people in research?
There are some ethical considerations when engaging young people in research . Voices of Refugee Youth examined and recognised these early on. Some of the key considerations include:
- Ensuring meaningful participation. With youth participation in research becoming increasingly prevalent internationally , it has often become a ‘tick box’ exercise rather than a meaningful experience. To avoid this, researchers need to carefully plan and allocate enough time and money to youth participation.
- Changing ways of working. Researchers’ ways of working may be challenged when working with peer researchers: they must be genuinely ready to change timelines, set aside pre-existing expectations about the research process, and truly listen to young people’s voices .
- Addressing power dynamics. While one of the rationales for engaging young people as peer researchers is to reduce power dynamics between researcher and participant, it is not a ‘magic solution’ for this problem . Young people recruited to a peer researcher role are often not from the most marginalised groups in society, and this can create power imbalances between the peer researchers and the young people they are collecting data from . Measures to minimise these dynamics should be put in place.
Engaging young people’s voices in research is important; young people have the right to be heard. The youth-centred methodology adopted by Voices of Refugee Youth, by engaging young people as participants and peer researchers, aims to both benefit the young people involved and improve the quality of our research. The study has recognised and responded to key ethical considerations in order to ensure the experience is a meaningful and empowering one for young people involved.
- See: https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/
- Alderson, P. & Morrow, V. (2004). Ethics, Social Research and Consulting with Children and Young People. Barnardos.
- Laws, S. & Mann, G. (2004). So you want to involve children in research?: A toolkit supporting children’s meaningful and ethical participation in research relating to violence against children. Save the Children.
- London, J.K., Zimmerman, K. & Erbstein, N. (2003). Youth-Led Research and Evaluation: Tools for Youth, Organizational, and Community Development. New Directions for Evaluation, 98 (Summer), pp.33-45.
- Ozer, E.J. & Piatt, A.A. (2017). Adolescent Participation in Research: Innovation, rationale and next steps: Innocenti Research Briefs 2017-07. UNICEF Office of Research Innocenti.
- Mestheneos, E. (2006). Refugees as researchers: experiences from the project ‘Bridges and fences: paths to refugee integration in the EU. In Moran, R. & Temple, B. (eds) Doing Research with Refugees: Issues and Guidelines. Policy Press, pp.21-36; Lehmann, N. (2015). Final Report Youth-Led Participatory Action Research Budi County, Eastern Equatoria State, South Sudan. UNICEF.
- Kleine, D., Pearson, G. & Poveda, S. (2016). Participatory Methods: Engaging Children’s Voices and Experiences in Research. Global Kids Online.
- See, for example: Emry, M. & Matsui, E. (2011). Case Study on Youth Participatory Research on Education Quality in CEE/CIS: Innovative Practices, Lessons Learned and Recommendations. UNICEF; or Lehmann, N. (2015). Final Report Youth-Led Participatory Action Research Budi County, Eastern Equatoria State, South Sudan. UNICEF.
- Graham, A. et al. (2013). Ethical Research Involving Children. UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.
- Bradbury-Jones, C. & Taylor, J. (2015). Engaging children as co-researchers: challenges, counter-challenges and solutions. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18, pp.161–173; Graham, A. et al. (2013). Ethical Research Involving Children. UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.
- Porter, G. (2016). Reflections on co-investigation through peer research with young people and older people in sub-Saharan Africa. Qualitative Research, 6(3), pp.293–304.
- Bradbury-Jones, C. & Taylor, J. (2015). Engaging with children as co-researchers: challenges, counter challenges and solutions. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(2), pp.161-173.
- Kim, C. (2016). Why Research ‘by’ Children? Rethinking the Assumptions Underlying the Facilitation of Children as Researchers. Children & Society, 30(3), pp.230-240.