Research is traditionally collected by the auspice of agencies armed with a clipboard and big budgets.
But what if breaking with tradition delivers creative, innovative solutions to questions you may not have considered?
How about engaging young people to carry out research or evaluation on behalf of a school, community or organisation?
Last week the UFA team worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Arts Connect West Midlands to train young people to deliver a project on whether school broadcasts are the best way to experience Shakespeare.
There’s a clear benefit to the young people taking part in the programme, as through the training delivered they have learnt the basics of research.
The UFA Young Researcher and Evaluator programme explores the language and mechanics of research like how to collect and analyse data, but also covers the ethics of research and how to create a code of conduct, maintain confidentiality, plan and organise themselves and how to work as part of a team.
There was a real buzz in the room as young people from seven different schools across the country learned together, formed new friendships and demonstrated to their teachers how young people are capable of so much.
At the end of the project next month, after they have carried out their research in their schools, they will present back their findings (from talking to a wide range of young people in their schools) to the RSC team, who will then consider the impact the research has on its schools’ programme. They have promised to implement recommendations ready for their next school’s broadcast of Henry V in November. This is the power of a genuine and authentic leadership role for young people.
But from an organisational perspective, what are the benefits of working with young people?
In our experience, the benefits can be clearly seen from Day One. Young people bring honesty with few preconceptions to the research and a natural curiosity to find out more.
They often develop creative and innovative ways to research the subject matter and are far more attuned to the methods their peers will respond to.
Research projects are also a magnet for the thinkers, the more reflective young people who are often overshadowed in the classroom by the extroverts. They grow in confidence throughout the programme, but also help deliver a far more balanced viewpoint than just the loudest voices in the classroom.
But the biggest benefit they bring is a genuine young people’s voice throughout the project. This ranges from how the questions are framed, to the peer responses. These are often far more authentic than if channelled through an adult researcher, as the young people are far less concerned about giving a perceived wrong answer, and also speak the same language as their researchers.
It’s not just organisations like RSC that can benefit from engaging young people to research and evaluate an issue. UFA has trained Young Researchers and Evaluators to deliver projects on everything from the quality of school dinners to the use of mobile phones in the classroom.
As long as the young people are properly trained and supported throughout the project, they can deliver creative, insightful research and well thought out and presented data and evaluation.
The final step in the process is equally important for young people’s motivation and enthusiasm. They present their findings and recommendations to senior leaders who are charged with keeping them informed about actions that happen as a result of their work – there is feedback to them on the research findings and they are acted on, if possible, and they understand why if not.
This commitment is key as young people’s voice is valuable and powerful, and needs to be listened to, even if it’s delivering a message that’s difficult to hear.