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Critical dialogue, critical methodology: bridging the research gap to young people's participation in evaluating children’s services
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Professor Liz Todd
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This paper suggests ways the academic debate on youth participation (and how this is translated into research designs) can inform the manner in which services collaborate with children and young people to evaluate their work. There is a gap between thinking from academic research and the practice of service evaluation that seems to be difficult to bridge. In order to bridge the gap, a particular kind of ‘criticality’ needs to be brought to the assumptions and structures of professional practice and to how research methods are used in consulting with young people. Some of the discourses of practice do not sit easily with a view of children as active agents in their own lives, a view that underlies a more meaningful collaboration with young people. A process of dialogue and reflection within services that looks questioningly at the relationship between services and young people is explored. Encouraging criticality within youth involvement in evaluation will go a long way in bringing the academic debate on young people and research to children's services. Criticality takes many forms, but this paper gives some possible areas for action. These involve research purpose, consent, method and interpretation. More youth involvement is not necessarily better. Consent is on-going rather than agreed at the start and is in the hands of young people. Rather than looking for child-friendly methods, services should think of participatory design. Conclusions from findings should go beyond taking expressed views as accessing core perspectives. Examples of participatory design that do indeed take on board the academic debate on research and young people are considered. These include the work of Investing in Children in Durham and Alison Clark's work in designing pre-school settings with children and adults such as school staff and architects.
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