How to work effectively with youth in research

How to work effectively with youth in research

By Alexandre Irakoze

Based on my personal experience on the Voices of Refugee Youth (VoRY) project, I find that it is very interesting and often more fruitful to involve researchers who are young people in research, especially when the target population is also a younger generation.

After being selected by Jigsaw to be one of the youth researchers in the VoRY project in Rwanda in 2019, I was trained and equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to start my journey as a youth researcher. I started data collection in early 2020, surveying and interviewing young refugee students who were in their final year at a secondary school in Mahama refugee camp to understand the impact of post-primary education in emergencies. This experience has made me realise that using youth researchers to conduct research among young people via a participatory framework has many benefits for the quality of the research, the participants and the youth researchers themselves.

Regarding the benefits of a youth centered approach for the quality of the research, I witnessed that this enabled more objective, valid and credible information to be obtained. Respondents were clearly more comfortable talking with me instead of a more senior researcher.

Additionally, my involvement in this research has also provided the participants a role model, and potentially boosted their future aspiration and performance in class. While conducting a survey with a refugee student in Mahama camp, I asked him about his motivation for continuing into secondary school, and he replied: “you know that we know each other here in the camp. A few years ago, I used to see you going to school like me, but now you are surveying me as a youth researcher. This pushes me to work hard in class and to continue with my secondary studies, even university, in order to contribute to changing the world as you are doing now.” He also mentioned that he had seen many others excel after school, helping him to know that refugee education is not “wasting time” as some might believe.

I, as one of the youth researchers, have benefited and I am still benefiting from the youth-centred research approach: I learned many skills on how to collect, analyse, and interpret data, how electronic devices and platforms are used during data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Being able to lead data collection was also a great opportunity for me as I gained valuable research experience and a sense of ownership of the research process.

Based on my experience so far, I recommend that we should involve young people more in refugee education research by mobilising them to learn from available education research-opportunities and to prove that they can contribute to the positive changes happening in the world.

In brief, I believe that working with young people in research is beneficial and helpful for youth researchers, participants and the quality of the research itself.