Beyond the usual suspects: Participation and engagement of young people in research

Stream: Children and participation
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Time: 3.45 pm – 5.05 pm


The impetus for methodological innovation in the field of childhood and youth studies, culminating in participatory research methods, is largely driven by an intent to overturn traditional representations of young people and children as passive subjects and bring to the fore their agency, expertise and voice. However, recent debates query the plethora of methodological claims to empowerment, authenticity and voice, that mark the field of participatory research methods. In this paper, we take up these critiques. We outline a participatory or engagement process trialled in a research project that sought to address questions of representation. The engagement process, underpinned by an ethic of care and representational justice, aimed to generate a relational understanding of voice and policy-relevant outcomes. In the project 'Stories of resourcing and resourcefulness', we gathered biographical narratives from 44 young people with complex needs. The engagement process in the research included ongoing and flexible forms of consultations with all participants as a means of ensuring inclusive representation and responsiveness to trauma and mechanisms young people had developed to keep themselves safe. The paper elaborates on this design, its merits and lessons learned with respect to debates about who should drive research agendas, young people's representation and how we might strive to enable young people’s experiences to shed light on the services and systems that affect them.


Cathy Thomson (Presenter), SPRC
Cathy Thomson is a research Fellow at SPRC, UNSW Sydney. Cathy has been involved in academic and applied research and program evaluations based on mixed methods and quasi experimental design for over 20 years. She specialises in research on the characteristics and processes of service systems that assist or prevent older people and their carers, young people and other vulnerable population groups accessing services and resources that support health and well-being. She has worked closely with commonwealth and state government departments and community organisations in the evaluation of the provision and coordination of social services.