Evidencing Youth Participatory Approaches in Research and Evaluation

May 14, 2024

Alison McIntyre, Research Officer at Youth Futures Foundation, and Jamie Rowland, Advisor at the Centre for Evidence and Implementation, reflect on participatory approaches in research and evaluation ahead of the publication of ‘Youth Participatory Research: A Review of Reviews and Practice Guidance’.

Collaborating with young people who have experienced facing barriers to good employment is a central part of our approach at Youth Futures Foundation. Following the principle of ‘nothing about us without us,’ we created the Future Voices Group – a group of 15 young people from marginalised backgrounds with lived experience of facing barriers to employment. The group members work across the organisation in place-based grants programmes, employer engagement activities, policy, research and evaluation projects. 

Recognising the value in meaningful engagement with the Future Voices Group, we were motivated to commission research that took a ‘what works’ approach to youth participation in research and evaluation. Specifically, we wanted to better understand how to build inclusive participatory approaches to empower the young people most marginalised by the employment system.  

Youth participatory approaches are continuing to grow in importance across research and evaluation settings. There is a need for such approaches to be informed by existing evidence – to be designed in line with best practice, clearly strategised, and connected to potential outcomes. Without seeking an evidence informed approach, we chance ineffective practice and take ethical and safeguarding risks with the participating young people.  

We commissioned the Centre of Evidence and Implementation to review existing reviews and practice resources to establish clear recommendations on youth participation that can be implemented by research and evaluation organisations. 

Key Learnings  

While the review findings showed inconsistent and diverse means of implementing, conceptualising and monitoring youth participatory approaches, it also identified the following facilitators of promising practice: 

  • Theorising, conceptualising, and reflexivity
  • Consideration of youth voice
  • Power sharing between adults and youth
  • Communication and engagement throughout participation
  • Transparency and feedback cycles
  • Inclusive practices
  • Safe spaces for participation
  • Trauma-informed collaboration
  • Incentives and recognition for youth participation

Embedding these factors in research and evaluation projects is likely to realise higher quality approaches that are ethically responsive to the needs of marginalised young people and that advocate for change through the power of youth voice. 

There was inconsistency in the way youth participatory research approaches are implemented. To widen the take-up of promising approaches, rigidity around appropriate paradigms, models and methods should be avoided. Instead, there should be careful consideration on what is appropriate for individual projects.  

Across any level or type of youth participatory research approach, inclusivity, support and building of the evidence-base ensures that marginalised young people are heard and respected in individual projects and more systemically. Consideration of youth voice can be practiced throughout the research process by addressing power dynamics between participant and researcher so that all contributions are received with equal value.  

Future Voices Group Members Reflect on the Report 

Yi Kang, Future Voices Group Ambassador, said:

“…what stood out to me [was]…how the young people’s participation and involvement is equally important and should be focused on from the very start of the research to the very end including dissemination…” 

Samuela, Future Voices Group Ambassador, said:

“…young people should be co-collaborators when it comes to research and should also contribute to how the research is done…the reason this is important is so that young people don’t feel tokenised” 

Implementing evidence-led participatory approaches  

The findings and recommendations of this report will inform and improve our participatory approaches in research and evaluation.  

Earlier this year, we shared preliminary findings at a roundtable with colleagues from the youth employment sector and the wider What Works Network. We discussed strategies to overcome barriers to participation: exclusionary practice, inflexible methodological conventions, short deadlines and overstretched youth engagement teams. The conversation highlighted the importance of embedding values of inclusion and adaptability when designing participatory approaches.  

Instead of attempting to address every aspect of our participatory practice all at once, we agreed to implement the report’s recommendations one step at a time and work towards better participatory practice overall.  

Sharing this research, we hope to support stakeholders across our networks to champion youth voice and harness the recommendations for good practice highlighted in this report. 

Find the full report here.

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