Previous blog posts have discussed the value of using a youth-centred approach to research and how to use this approach effectively. In this blog post, we will build on these previous posts by reflecting on our experience of using the youth-centred approach. With the project now in its third year, we have learnt a lot about the successes and challenges that adopting a youth-centred approach can entail. We can also begin to use this experience to suggest ways of honing this way of working in future projects.
A key benefit of the youth-centred approach has been its facilitation of mutual learning experiences. The youth researchers at the centre of the initiative have had the opportunity to develop core research skills through an accredited course, which they report has increased their confidence and future employment prospects. In parallel, the Jigsaw and REUK researchers have gained valuable new insight into young refugees’ educational experiences, which has been significantly enhanced by the fact that the young people themselves are collecting the data and telling their communities’ stories first-hand.
Through the youth-centred approach, some youth researchers have not only become voices for their communities, but also advocates for their communities. We have recently heard how some youth researchers have been using what they have learned during Voices of Refugee Youth to make the case for improving education for refugees at university conferences and events. This makes us even more excited to see what they are able to do after the final unit of the training course (due to run this year), a part of which will guide youth researchers through how to use research to advocate for change.
We have also been struck by the capacity of the youth-centred approach to enrich sector knowledge. Youth researchers report that being young community members helps them to gain the trust of young research participants during data collection. When participants feel confident that they will be fully understood, they are more likely to answer questions truthfully and fully, leading to higher quality data.
In addition, an important aspect of our youth-centred approach has been to collaborate with youth researchers in the presentation of research findings. A team of Jigsaw, REUK, and youth researchers has recently submitted the initiative’s first academic journal article for publication. Adding youth researcher voices to academic journals will increase young refugee representation across an historically exclusive and inaccessible space, and simultaneously enrich that space with new perspectives.
Despite its considerable potential, the youth researchers’ dual identity as both investigators and community members may introduce limitations to the youth-centred approach. These issues are sometimes hierarchical; youth researchers report that their perceived lower status due to their age has led to challenges to their authority during data collection, with some school principals insisting on youth researchers conducting interviews in their presence, therefore denying their participants confidentiality.
Other youth researchers have noted that they have had to remain extremely vigilant against data collection bias. While their deep contextual knowledge often helps them to connect with participants, there is also a risk that youth researchers will assume their participants’ meanings or inadvertently ask leading questions based on their own experience. This highlights the need for rigorous training to ensure that youth researchers are able to remain impartial during data collection.
Finally, while the youth-centred methodology enables youth researchers to have significantly more input into the initiative than enumerators in conventional research would, their lack of research knowledge and experience, especially at the beginning, has limited the extent to which they are able to take on decision-making roles within the research process. The Jigsaw and REUK team continues to consider this point carefully, particularly in light of different research deliverables that are due in the coming year. It is hoped that there will be greater scope for youth researchers to become involved in data analysis and presentation tasks, especially given that their skills and experience will have increased throughout the training process.
Occasional challenges aside, the youth-centred methodology has overall proven a highly successful and enriching approach. It has led to significant learning for all researchers involved, increased the quality of the data collected, and given youth researchers a springboard for creating meaningful, long-term impact within their communities. Our biggest lesson learnt so far is the paramount importance of quality training to ensure that youth researchers are properly prepared for their work. It is hoped that this solid foundation will also enable youth researchers to become increasingly active as decision-makers in the latter parts of the project, with a view to magnifying their voices further still.