Practical research with young people


This article has been transcribed from the Socially Good Podcast – “Practical research with young people.”

John recommends 5 practical research techniques to effectively carryout research with young people to create an effect campaign, service or intervention.

“Five ways to get the views of young people. You might think ‘Why would you even do that?”

If your service or product is something that’s going to be consumed, or it’s going to affect young people, then we should be anticipating what their wants and needs are to make sure that there’s a truly good user experience that’s in there. Quite often, we create something and think, ‘This is what they want; this is the way we’re going to present it. Here you go.’ and it’ll either fly or it won’t. We can learn from commercial marketing that user research, when done correctly, means that young people are involved in the co-production process of that and it is much more likely to be adopted and successful. These are principles that we should apply to social marketing, service development, and creating any kind of intervention.


  1. Instagram stories

In our experience, we’ve had some fantastic results through Instagram stories for polls and short surveys, where you can ask a series of questions to young people who are following you. You can do quantitative voting on different opinions; can ask ‘yes/no’ questions. You can also do qualitative questions where you can ask open ended questions where they will go into much more detail, and what that does is helps you to shape even further levels of research that you can do. Instagram stories is a really big tip for a great way of getting instant feedback from young people.


  1. Focus groups

The better way of doing focus groups, in our experience, is to go to the natural environment of your research group. In the case of young people, that can be working with schools, with youth clubs, with any kind of specialist interest group where they are coming together. I’ve found that young people quite like the idea of being able to give their feedback on topics, but maybe for a dryer subject, you need to bring some kind of incentive. Once you’ve established that you’re going to take focus group routes, what you need to do is spend time with your group of young people to set the scene, to really explain what you’re hoping to learn from this, and why you’re doing it.
Once you’ve set the scene, you need to get them participating as soon as possible. One way to do that is by asking some easy to answer questions to begin with to make sure that they get used to participating. That might be putting their hand up to vote on an opinion or simple one-word answers just to get them into the flow of things rather than jumping into too much of a complex scenario or an abstract question for them. Sometimes it works really well if you split a group into smaller groups and then ask them to come back with something that they’ve got to present back to the group; you can even bring a competitive element to that to keep them on their toes.


  1. Creating media

If you work with young people and invite them to have some level of creative expression to show how they really feel about particular topic or issue, you can say, “We’re going to be showing this to other people, this is your opportunity to get your view across”. Creating media is not only is a great way of engaging young people in something that interests them, but when it comes to presenting your findings, if you’ve got video and audio or images which have clearly come directly from young people, it can have a real strong level of influence. For a lot of young people this idea of creating something that is media led is something they’re used to doing. It does require some level of confidence to create something like that, possibly some creative skills as well. It’s about drawing upon each other’s strengths to make sure that we’ve got the best way of expressing the collective views of the group.


  1. Depth interviews

With focus groups, you sometimes run the risk of having individuals who dominate the group, or have participants who are inhibited to share their true views, because there may be somebody in the group who’s the ‘cool kid’, or even the bully, or just somebody that is the natural leader and they tend to fall behind that person’s view. Having backup depth interviews is a really powerful tool. From a practical perspective, I would recommend doing this in ones, twos or threes, and it works best if they know and trust each other. When they do know and trust each other, they feel there’s a little bit of safety in numbers. Not that you’re a scary interviewer, but they can bounce ideas off each other. If you do that relatable storytelling where they build upon each other, then you get much more of a rich level of insight than you get from running through a list of questions and getting short answers from that.
Stories and examples are really important when it comes back to reporting your findings because it’s the story and the emotion that adds all of the colour to it and brings it to life. It’s quite often the thing that then spurs a decision maker on to making some positive change.


  1. Ambassadors

The fifth and final way of getting the views of young people is to work with them on an ongoing basis as ambassadors. This means working with the most engaged young people who seem to be really switched on by whatever topic it was that you were discussing with them and giving them the opportunity to join a movement of change and to keep working with you.

We’ve done this before, where we’ve set up ambassador programmes around particular campaigns. We’ve identified these young people as being pioneers, as being truly interested in this topic. If they’re passionate about that particular topic, they want to make some change. Once you’ve built up a group of ambassadors, you need to look after them, you need to give them positive reinforcement. You need to, in some cases, mentor them and make sure that they benefit from that as well.

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