Children-researching-children is an emerging field internationally which recognises the contribution research done by children can make to our understanding of childhood and adolescence. The focus has shifted from research on children, to research with children — and increasingly research by children, testing preconceptions about children’s lived experiences and challenging the ways in which children have been silenced and excluded from knowledge creation and policy-making. Assumptions underpinning this are that children are experts on their own needs and experiences, but power dynamics and lack of skills get in the way of their voices being heard in public forums (for instance in local planning where council decisions about their neighbourhoods can impact greatly on their everyday lives).
The aims of this pilot project, Children-researching children: What it’s like living in the city (funded by the Massey University Research Fund and Auckland Council) have been to assess the methodological possibilities of children researching children (including whether children’s research into their peers’ perceptions and experiences elicits different findings from similar research by adult researchers); to empower children to be part of knowledge creation and decision-making on issues relevant to them (ie, neighbourhood planning); and to create policy-relevant knowledge for Auckland Council’s neighbourhood strategies.
Six children aged 10-12 years (NZ-born and New Migrant) who had earlier participated in the inner-city component of our Kids in the City study were trained as researchers using an adapted internationally recognised training model (Kellett, M. 2005: How to Develop Children as Researchers, London: Sage Publications). Over a period of eight months the children learnt about the nature of research (including learning from other research, ethics and framing research questions), data collection (including interview techniques, questionnaires and surveys), data analysis (quantitative and qualitative) and dissemination (including report writing and presentation skills). Training sessions were held at SHORE and Whariki Research Centre, with set tasks and on-going support in data collection, analysis, presentation and dissemination between the sessions.
While all faced challenges, they overcame these and, at the end of the project, all said they would like to be involved in further research. Their successfully completed research projects included an exploration of ‘Living in small spaces’, ‘Children and sports’, ‘Children in local parks’ and ‘Public educational spaces’ and whether children preferred playing inside or outside. Their reflections showed their growth in confidence throughout the process: ‘At first I was worried but now I’m happy because I know I can do it’; ‘I’m not freaked out at all – I was worried, but then I wasn’t’; ‘It’s a lot more work than I thought, but I’d do it again. The more you do, the better you get.’
While findings largely mirrored those from our Kids in the City study, there were informative nuanced differences.
Children presented their findings at two sessions: the first to their parents and SHORE and Whariki researchers; and the second to Auckland Council staff and Waitemata Local Board members. Council’s receptiveness to the children’s research suggests a further role for research by children in the urban planning arena. In fact one of the participants subsequently took part in a presentation of the Local Board Plan to the public; and more recently the whole Children-researching-children team have been involved in providing feedback to council on the proposed up-grade of Freyberg Place, providing a children’s perspective.
Contact researcher: Dr Penelope Carroll