By Frédéric Darbellay and Zoe Moody
From a transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge perspective, how can children’s capacity for reflection, analysis, curiosity, discovery and creativity be recognized? Why and how can the involvement of children in the research process be promoted by giving them a co-researcher status? Based on our experience of research on and with children, we present the main issues and potential of this type of research.
1. Research with Children
Recent developments in the fields of childhood studies and children’s rights studies highlight the benefits of carrying out research with and for children rather than about them.
Research with children is based on a horizontal model of knowledge production, that recognizes children as the real experts on what it is like to “be a child.” Combining children’s insider views of their experiences with the outsider views of adult researchers allows movement beyond the possible replication of research about children and production of original and innovative knowledge.
Armed with their capacity for reflection and action, children can thus be mobilized in a collaborative perspective with adult researchers. Although the latter are appointed and trained professionals in the production of knowledge, they may find it beneficial to be guided by children and to include them in the research process on subjects that concern them directly.
2. Children as co-researchers
Children as co-researchers participate in scientific questioning, the development of methodological tools, and the discussion and promotion of research results. Children are invited to participate in research and contribute their expertise to issues that concern them. This process is beneficial for researchers who learn from children and share their experiences, as well as for children to develop their thinking skills.
The participation of children in research has advantages at several levels:
- for children, by offering them the possibility of expressing themselves on a subject that concerns them and of asserting their research capacities based on discovery and curiosity;
- for the research process, which can count on original and enlightened contributions on the issues addressed;
- for society in general, which can capitalize on research results adapted to the lived realities of children.
3. Requirements for research participation by children
How children will participate is usefully considered using Arnstein’s ladder of participation (Arnstein, 1969; for a description see https://i2insights.org/2022/08/30/learning-from-arnsteins-ladder-and-iap2-spectrum/). The aim is to go beyond the ‘non-participation’ levels, including manipulation of opinion, mere information about the project or consultation. Stronger forms of participation require working directly with children collaboratively (co-creation), giving them some form of control or even a capacity for initiative (agency). These are the conditions for them to get involved actively, and maybe even autonomously in research activities. Children can then become either research partners (research with children), or even take the initiative in scientific questioning (research by children).
This type of participatory system also needs to provide:
- a safe space and sufficient time in which children can freely express their points of view without discrimination;
- voice given to children in order to encourage them to express their points of view without fear of possible divergence from adult opinions, conceptions, representations and practices;
- mechanisms to collect, listen to and hear the voices of children; and
- influence on the negotiations and decision-making processes that concern the children involved, including receiving feedback on their contributions and the impacts of their participation.
What do you think of sharing expertise with children? Have you ever involved children in your research activities? If so, for what reasons, with what objectives and in what way? If not, for what reasons (research topic, irrelevance, etc.) and would you be interested in doing so if the opportunity arises?
To find out more:
Darbellay, F. and Moody, Z. (2023). Children as Research Actors: Theories, Methods and Experimentation. In, R. J. Lawrence, Handbook of Transdisciplinarity: Global Perspectives, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK: 403-418. (Online) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.4337/9781802207835.00035
Darbellay, F. (2021). Children as Co-researchers in a Stakeholder Discussion Group. td-net toolbox, Methods and tools for co-producing knowledge webportal. (Online): https://naturalsciences.ch/id/wEQUF
Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Planning Association, 35, 4: 216-224.
Biography: Frédéric Darbellay PhD is associate professor in Inter- and Transdisciplinary Studies at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He is Head of the Inter- and Transdisciplinarity Unit at the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies (CIDE) and the CIDE Deputy Director. His research focuses on the study of inter- and transdisciplinarity as a creative process of knowledge production between and beyond disciplines.
Biography: Zoe Moody PhD is professor at the University of Teacher Education Valais and Senior Research Associate at the Center for Children’s Rights Studies, University of Geneva, Switzerland. Her interdisciplinary work is focused on children’s rights from educational and psycho-social perspectives and based on participatory and mixed-methods approaches.