I recently attended  this workshop led by Rachel Rosen and Kristin Liabo in relation to some work here at BCU. And yes, these are notes rather than fully formed ideas.

The workshop looked at participatory research broadly, but also addressed some of the concerns with working with young people. We first identified some of the central characteristics, by reviewing some definitions, see bibliography below.

Firstly, participants are often involved in all stages: question, design, research, dissemination.

There is a focus on research with people and for them, which also in my mind raises the question of who the participants are doing the research ‘for’ – in our case I think we need to stress they’re doing it for themselves (the skills of research train them for life), to create knowledge and learn to be researchers, but also, they are doing it for peers, for the development of learning and ideas that might inform or transform the curriculum.

It’s worth noting that participatory methods might run alongside non-participatory methods – more traditional observation (cover or otherwise) or interviewing of ‘subjects’. What are the problems with mixing these methods though? Does it create confusion over issues of trust and ‘ownership’ of the research? E.g. in the Creative Citizens work we went from a phase of observation and interviews to then doing co-creation work – changing our relationship to the point where it might have been hard to go back to straight observation.

The reasons why we do participatory research can influence what happens during the research.

Children can be presented as experts in their own lives – we may not deem them to have the ‘necessary’ skills or language to express that expertise, or maybe more accurately, we need to be able to understand and translate that. Essentially, the ‘new social studies of childhood’ veer away from parents, adults, teachers, etc being proxies for what children think – and as in Rosen’s work, their consent, where 0-4 year olds gave their own consent, although we need to take into account levels of consent when a child ‘agrees’ initially but then turns away or removes themselves from the situation, or is upset. In short, parents can’t consent for their children. We discussed the idea of voice in this case, giving children voice as experts. Their participation contributes to ideas of them being citizens with choice.

We discussed power, and I wondered whether the initial power and tension in the relationship comes from the organisation bringing in the funding? Does that unhelpfully strengthen the assumption that the adults in the research will hold power?

In discussing the reasons for doing participatory research, we recognised that it changes the social relations of research production, and might be considered as a more ethical means of generating knowledge. On the other hand, confusions that might arise around ownership, trust, publication, etc might be a dangerous path to tread, with various threats. E.g. a researcher publishing a paper that was unexpected by the participants.

Focus groups

How doe the composition of a FG change what happens there? What assumptions do we make about the similarities/differences of people in the community? Is it ever possible to have same-ness? If children are participating, could they still be quite vocally introverted/vulnerable, rather than us assuming they’re outgoing? And therefore hard to talk to? Or in a self-selected group of children  does that actually give them undue power over the researcher?

Other challenges:

Can we safely set the agenda or research question of our work with one group of children in a pilot stage, to then assume we can apply the same concerns to the actual research with different children later? This basically addresses that not all children or groups of children are the same, worth recognising even if there’s no solution.

Agenda setting for participatory research: 2 methods in the workshop.

  1. Was in response to an image, writing out post-its of things we wanted to know about the image, the idea being this might ultimately lead to a research question, or number of them.
  2. Another was ordering a list of predefined issues, printed on slips of paper – so the themes or issues are there but we need to decide which is most, least important. The difference being a little like what a focus group offers, compared to interviews, in that our approach is moulded or swayed by a third party’s intervention or starting point.

 

 

Gallacher, L. A., & Gallagher, M. (2008). Methodological Immaturity in Childhood Research? Thinking throughparticipatory methods’. Childhood15(4), 499-516. http://oro.open.ac.uk/15889/1/Gallacher&Gallagher2008.pdf

Gaventa, J., & Cornwall, A. (2006). Challenging the boundaries of the possible: participation, knowledge and power. IDS Bulletin37(6), 122-128. http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/30639255/challenging_the_boundaries_of_the_possible_gaventa_and_cornwall.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1431853342&Signature=B%2Bq4%2FfoWkI4pvz9oXi8Ygf2TBPs%3D&response-content-disposition=inline

Skånfors, L. (2009). Ethics in child research: Children’s agency and researchers”ethical radar’. Childhoods Today3(1).

Thomas, N., & O’kane, C. (1998). The ethics of participatory research with children. Children & society12(5), 336-348. http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nigel_Thomas2/publication/227897421_The_ethics_of_participatory_research_with_children/links/54abfcd00cf2bce6aa1dd70a.pdf

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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