Exploring child-led research: case studies from Bangladesh, Lebanon and Jordan
The right to participate and express a view is an intrinsic right afforded to all human beings, regardless of age (Lundy, 2007). Explicitly, Articles 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) grant participatory rights to children and young people in decision-making. One of the forms of participation academics and practitioners have studied over the past decades, the engagement of children and young people in participatory processes, is moving away from the understanding of children as passive recipients of research to active participants. However, literature has paid scant attention to research led directly by children and young people (Thomas, 2015). Child-led research is understood, as starting definition from literature, as an approach in which children and young people are involved in all stages – from planning, fieldwork and analysis to dissemination. The aim of this research is to critically explore how the process and outcomes of children and young people’s participation in their own child-led research contributes, positively or negatively, to decision-making processes in the context of international development programmes. The research questions are: Question 1: What are children and young people’s motivations for, expectations of and experiences with engaging in their own child-led research as a way to influence decision-making? Question 2: What are the processes of child-led research that positively or negatively influence decision-making? Question 3: In what ways does child-led research influence decision-making? (And why and how do they do so?) This research project used a case study approach to examine two cases where children and young people claimed they conducted child-led research. The first, Bekaa and Irbid, investigated the research conducted by a group of children and young people on issues relevant to their situations as refugees in the host countries of Lebanon and Jordan. The second, Dhaka, reviewed child-led research focused on the lack of birth certificates issued for Bangladeshi children and the possible effects of not having this legal registration. A group of children and young people who are members of a Children’s Parliament in Dhaka led this project. The research participants for this project are defined as (1) the children and young people, aged 12 to 18 (when I interviewed them), who are associated with World Vision programmes and engaged in the child-led research projects within their constituencies in the Irbid and Bekaa and Dhaka case studies and (2) the adult professionals who acted as facilitators of child-led research projects and those who worked in the design of these projects or dissemination of their findings. These participants were those who were best suited to provide the information needed as they were fully involved in the child-led research projects and had in-depth knowledge to contribute answers to the research questions. This project adopted several methods for data collection, including focus groups, semi-structured interviews, observations and documentary review. The study followed ethical research guidelines to ensure the safety, rights, dignity and well-being of both the children and young people and adult participants (Morrow, 2009). The research took into account the special considerations required to gain informed consent, ensure confidentiality and anonymity, acknowledge the cultures of the research sites, and refrain from presenting information that may potentially harm participants (Marshall and Rossman, 2006). The findings of the study show that the child-led research approach is considered an adequate participatory approach that creates spaces for children and young people to engage in their own research and influence change based on their findings. Thus, this approach enabled participants to gather together and pursue collectively a research project in which they were able to explore issues about their lives using research methodologies that were appropriate to their experiences, abilities and expertise. This conversion, however, highlights a variety of tensions around the understanding and legitimacy of child-led research. Findings from this study supports the view that child-led research generates empirically grounded knowledge, which produced through data collection and personal experiences of the young researches and its analysis as a whole. Findings also reveal that the young researchers’ motivations and expectations were to make an impact on their own lives, as well as the lives of their peers and change a situation that they perceived as unfair. Findings show that the adult facilitators played an important role in facilitating the young researchers but not managing them. However, this study evidenced some tensions between participation and protection rights. The study found manifestations of power amongst the children and young people during the child-led research projects, which were based on age, gender, religion, language and ethnicity. This confirms children and young people can replicate power relations within their participatory projects, which are deeply embedded in their traditions and cultures. Findings show that child-led research has different levels of impact; on decision-making and in the individual lives of the young researchers. This is connected to the contexts where children and young people conducted their research, which was conducive in one case study and more challenging in the other case. Overall, the findings of this study contribute to the body of literature that challenges the dominant conceptualisation that children and young people are unable to conduct their own research. Instead, the findings of this research project contribute to the study of children and young people’s participation by providing different perspectives on the debate around the children and young people’s abilities and motivations to engage in their own child-led research projects. The findings contribute to knowledge about the nature of child-led research as an approach that supports children and young people in their struggle to participate in society. These findings contribute to the substantial gap of understanding about what is knowledge and expertise by exploring the ways in which children and young people conduct their own research and create knowledge with the aim of making a change in society. Specifically, the findings provide empirical evidence of the impact that their work has had on policy and practice and their personal lives.