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This book makes the case for doing social research and evaluation about and with children and young people, and the key ethical and methodological considerations for doing so in ways that are meaningful, effective and inclusive. Our work as researchers and trainers has led us to believe that social research and evaluation with children and young people should, first and foremost, start with an understanding of children’s and young people’s rights to have a say in matters that affect them, not least as they are experts in their own lives. Good research and evaluation needs to be carried out in ways that enable children and young people to be listened to, so that the policies and services which they inform better reflect children’s and young people’s priorities and concerns. Their lived experience and agency should be valued and respected. Adult views may need to be considered as well as, but not as a proxy for those of the children they parent, teach or provide services for. In order to ensure that children’s and young people’s priorities and concerns are accurately reflected, it is critical to consider the diversity of children and young people both in general terms and in ensuring appropriate sampling and methods.

However, the theory and principles outlined in Chapters One and Two can be far from straightforward to put into practice, and we hope that the suggestions and examples in Chapters Three to Five help to provide ideas on how to apply the theory and principles outlined in Chapters One and Two in real research situations.

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A focus on children’s rights and changing views around the nature of childhood has, to some extent, been reflected in a growing interest in children’s and young people’s participation in research. This includes both research on children and young people (as sources of data) and their active involvement in the research process. In the chapters that follow, we explore the methodological and ethical questions that arise in relation to social research and evaluation with children and young people, but first we need to consider the epistemological questions which underpin this research. This chapter provides an overview of the theoretical context to research with children and young people. It sets out why research should be carried out in ways that enable children and young people, as opposed to their parents, professionals or service providers, to be listened to. We argue that recognising that children and young people are experts in their own lives is vital to ensuring that research, evaluation and the policies and services which they inform, better reflect children’s and young people’s priorities and concerns. The chapter explores:

  • children’s rights;

  • key theory, including childhood studies and ideas of children’s agency and citizenship;

  • the legislative and policy context for research with children and young people.

The growth of sociological interest in children and young people has coincided broadly with the development of the modern children’s rights movement (Mayall, 2015; Qvortrup et al, 2009). Children’s rights are underpinned by the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC; UN, 1989), which encompasses social, economic, civil and political rights.

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This chapter provides an overview of key issues and considerations in designing robust methodologies, methods, indicators and tools for children and young people. Poorly considered methods and questions, which includes those which do not match diverse circumstances and needs, can result in low response rates, biased answers and poor data. Methods, tools and questions which work well with adults need careful reconsideration and adaptation to suit children and young people.

It is not possible to cover every research permutation, but the principles suggested should help build a framework applicable to most studies. This chapter focuses on common primary qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Literature reviews and the secondary use of administrative, social media or other big data are not discussed as there does not seem to be a particular children’s or young people’s angle to the methods per se.

The chapter aims to address issues and practical solutions which most generalist publications omit. Do not be daunted: to be comprehensive it needs to cover a range of research circumstances, but not all apply in each research study. Moreover, the chapter provides plenty of suggestions, along with examples, drawn from the authors’ extensive experience. A key bedrock is inclusivity and careful planning. After looking overarching at design principles, including diversity, accessibility, sensitive topics and practical factors, this chapter looks at the specific considerations in adapting common quantitative and qualitative approaches and developing creative methods. Rather than attempting to provide an exhaustive set of instructions, or examples for every potential permutation (which is probably impossible), the emphasis here is on providing general parameters to ensure methods are appropriate and accessible.

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This chapter outlines the key ethical values and principles to consider when undertaking social research or evaluation with children and young people and the practical aspects around their application. Rather than repeating general ethical guidance which applies to all social research, we focus on the additional issues pertaining to children and young people, whether this is as research subjects, peer researchers or co-producers. Ethical considerations are more pronounced when working with children and young people, partly because of their relative vulnerability and lack of familiarity with research compared to adults. However, proportionality is important: the ethical issues connected to a short survey differ substantially from those involving in-depth exploration of sensitive data, and not all aspects apply to every study. Moreover, it is important that ethical considerations are not used as an excuse to not work with this group. Good planning and attention to detail are often all that is needed. This chapter covers:

  • general ethical foundations and

  • additional ethical dimensions and considerations around

    • avoiding harm and providing benefit

    • informed consent

    • protecting confidentiality, anonymity and privacy, and

    • minimising bias

Many excellent references and guidance already exist and most explore the philosophical and pragmatic underpinnings of good ethics in social research (see the references section in this chapter and the Bibliography). Applicable to any study with all ages, these tend to agree on a key set of researcher behaviour and characteristics, such as integrity, having the required professional expertise, honesty, openness, reflexivity and treating others fairly; and key principles, including informed consent, preventing harm, creating benefit, using appropriate methods and protecting confidentiality, privacy and anonymity.

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There is increasing interest in children’s and young people’s participation in research, both as direct sources of data and through their active involvement in, and input into, research design and processes. The book is designed to be of practical assistance to researchers undertaking social research and evaluation with children and young people. It also provides research users (for example policy makers and practitioners), commissioners and others with an understanding of the key issues to consider when using or commissioning social research and evaluation with children and young people. It provides an overview of the theoretical and UK legal and policy context, and provides a practical overview of key ethical, methodological and other considerations, including the use of creative, inclusive and participative research approaches

In developing and writing this book we have drawn on our own extensive practical experience of social research and evaluation with a wide variety of children and young people, using a range of methods and methodologies. We also draw on the questions and issues raised by participants on the training courses we have been running for the Social Research Association for several years, particularly calls for clear, practical guidance. The book therefore includes examples and checklists to aid readers in understanding how to apply the points in this book to their own research and evaluation studies. While it is intended to be an introductory overview, this book provides extensive links to further reading and other sources of information.

As well as ensuring that children and young people generally get a voice, we both have a particular interest in capturing the realities and perceptions of more vulnerable and marginalised children and young people.

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There are two principal arguments for involving children and young people in research: a rights-based moral argument that it is the ‘right’ thing to do; and an impact, or evidence-based, argument that involvement has benefits for the children and young people participating, for research and for the services and policies which draw on this research evidence. As discussed in Chapter Two, the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 1989) established international recognition that all children have a right to have a say in decisions that affect them. Children’s rights and the changing views of the nature of childhood have been reflected, to some extent, in increasing interest in children’s and young people’s involvement in research (for example, Brady, 2017; Kellet, 2005; Powell and Smith, 2009) both as sources of data and the focus of this chapter, through their active involvement in the research process. In a General Comment on Article 12, children’s right to have a say on matters which affect them (see Chapter Two) the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) outlines how this right should be applied:

A widespread practice has emerged in recent years, which has been broadly conceptualized as ‘participation’. This term has evolved and is now widely used to describe ongoing processes, which include information-sharing and dialogue between children and adults based on mutual respect, and in which children can learn how their views and those of adults are taken into account and shape the outcome of such processes. (UNCRC, 2009, p 3, emphasis added)

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A practical guide

Capturing the views and experiences of children and young people directly and involving them more actively in the research process are increasingly seen as essential for good research, evaluation, and policy and service development.

Written by two experienced social researchers and trainers, this book provides a practical and concise introductory guide to doing research with children and young people, outlining the benefits and challenges along with key ethical, methodological and other considerations. Throughout, there are practical examples, checklists and top tips to aid the reader.

Building on an established SRA training course, it offers an instructive resource for researchers, commissioners, policy makers, research users and others involved in research with children or young people.

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Author: Simon Haslam

Despite similarities between social researchers and consultants as knowledge workers, their work with data, focus on projects and intention to make a positive contribution, there are distinctions between the two ways of working that are potentially fruitful areas of study.

Social research places emphasis on the understanding, the development of insight or the creation of a conceptual understanding of what is being observed or presented. The focus is the codification or theoretical interpretation ‑ the result of a capably applied programme of systematic investigation ‑which creates intellectual property and potentially learning to be shared. A consultant is more likely to focus on practice, that is the application of the theory or conceptual understanding ‑ moving the fruits of research on to their application.

Social research usually places a high emphasis on process and provenance around data (be it qualitative or quantitative) as the foundation of understanding. The higher attention for consultants is typically devoted to ‘clients’, people affected by the application of research as the recommendation arising from studies are translated into actions. Usually consultants draw heavily on their personal knowledge or experience as it applies to a client situation, which often leads to intellectual property which is unique to a specific context. As such, much of consulting is to do with change and the implications of things being done differently to the way they have been done to date.

This final chapter summarises the main areas in which consulting practice might add to the repertoire of a social researcher. Below are the key points from the preceding chapters.

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Author: Simon Haslam

The purpose of Consulting skills for social researchers is to offer insight from the world of consulting to social researchers. As knowledge workers, social researchers and consultants share much in common in terms of the application of their experience and skills. Social researchers and consultants work with data, in its creation and its analysis. Social researchers and consultants are engaged in projects ‑ specific areas of work each with a start and finish ‑ often more than one at a time, and both social researchers and consultants aim to make a positive contribution to their clients (whether these clients are internal or external ones).

Despite these similarities, there are differences. This book seeks to draw on the practice of consultants and offer this knowledge to those working in social research, as a means of potentially bringing added dimensions to their portfolio of understanding and skills.

While the intention is not to turn social researchers into consultants, the distinctions between social research and consulting provide a platform for social researchers to reflect on their own areas of work. Social researchers and consultants share an interest in solving problems, but the emphasis of each discipline is different. Social research places emphasis on the understanding, the development of insight or the creation of a conceptual understanding of what is being observed or presented. The focus is the codification or theoretical interpretation ‑ the result of a capably applied programme of systematic investigation ‑ which creates intellectual property, and potentially learning to be shared. A consultant is more likely to focus on practice, that is, the application of the theory or conceptual understanding; moving the fruits of research on to their application.

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Author: Simon Haslam

Chapter 3 is based on the consulting process and the sequence of typical activities from the beginning of a consulting project to the end. It builds upon the ideas in the previous chapter, particularly how consultants add value and the different types of consulting approach. The consulting process will resonate with many social researchers, especially those commissioning social research work and people who are contract researchers, as there are many parallels between the life of social research projects and that of consulting projects.

Section 1 draws attention to the effectiveness of a consulting process, which is as much about the client as it is about the consultant.

Section 2 introduces the ‘consulting cycle’ as an outline structure for the consulting process. Having provided the structure of the consulting cycle, the remainder of the chapter homes in on specific areas of the cycle, and in particular where the consulting perspective might be of use to social researchers.

Section 3 talks about assignment intimacy.

Section 4 explores the value of logic in the design of consulting projects.

Section 5 looks at the role of management models in consulting work.

Section 6 looks at the core consulting skill of interviewing.

Section 7 builds on social research’s understanding of data issues and suggests how data can be developed into insight in consulting work.

Section 8 looks at how logic applies to the way in which the results and recommendations from consulting work can be framed.

Section 9, titled ‘The prestige’, talks about how the results of consulting work might be presented in order to demonstrate and realise value for the client.

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