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Children and young people as coresearchers in qualitative research

Date:11 October 2020
Author:Malou Luchtenberg
Eduard Verhagen, Els Maeckelberghe, Laura Postma and Malou Luchtenberg
Eduard Verhagen, Els Maeckelberghe, Laura Postma and Malou Luchtenberg


In the case study presented here we use a collaborative method to improve data analysis and research outcomes by engaging and involving children of the public. Several activities made the outputs of our research more (and freely) accessible for both academics (by open access publishing) and the public (through videos, an interview and poster presentation on the international iCAN conference by young people).


In a larger study, we collected the experiences of children and young people regarding their participation in medical research in order to provide recommendations for improving children’s participation in research. Researchers should be wary of interpretation bias when analyzing data of qualitative studies. Qualitative research includes a subjective component that calls for reflexivity. Because the life experiences and social situations of children differ from those of adults, their interpretations of data derived from interviews with children may differ from adults’ interpretations. There is little evidence in the literature on how children could be effectively involved in scientific data analysis.


We involved children as co-researchers in our data analysis to improve reflexivity of our team. We aimed to contribute to the body of knowledge on how to involve children in data analysis, and reflected on the involvement process from the perspective of adults and children. We developed a two-phase method for involving children in identification of themes from raw data in one-on-one sessions with an adult researcher (phase one) and further exploration of these themes in groups (phase two). Our co-researchers were school children aged 10-14. In a follow-up project we collaborated with young people aged 17-18. They used this project for a school assignment (profielwerkstuk), thereby creating a situation that is mutually beneficial.


The biggest challenges in our projects with children and young people were to find a method to involve our co-researchers in data analysis while limiting preselection of data by adults and to find a way that it would not be too time intensive. Therefore, we designed a new two-phase approach to be effective in the sense that it involved children to identify themes from original data as well as to explore the themes in more detail, and efficient in the sense of limiting time investment.


All co-researchers were able to identify themes and they considered acting as coresearcher interesting and fun, adding that they had learnt new skills and gained new knowledge. The experience also led them to reflect on health matters in their own lives. The children rated time investment as adequate. The adult researchers considered the process relatively time intensive but worthwhile because the project resulted in a more critical assessment of their own work.


We learned that children tend to include more concrete topics in their analyses, whereas adults analyze data in a more abstract way. Thereby, children and young people brought us back to what is import for them in practice.


Co-researching is challenging and it takes courage. We should start to think differently than our academic minds are used to. This includes training young researchers differently and promoting the use of creative methods (in our projects data presentation by means of videos rather than transcripts and mind maps with colored pencils and sticky notes to perform the analysis). In the future we will work on setting up a long-term collaboration with primary and secondary schools to optimize collaboration between adult researchers and children to help decrease the knowledge gap between academia and society.


About the author

Malou Luchtenberg
Malou Luchtenberg is a PhD candidate at UMCG/SHARE.
She wrote this article together with Prof. Eduard Verhagen, Dr Els Maeckelberghe and Laura Postma.
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