Wednesday, 21 March 2012

No magic tricks required - recruiting adolescents for research

Posted by Stephanie O'Neil

At a recent event, a speaker began to muse on the difficulty of recruiting adolescent boys into research.

Having spent most of the last decade avidly researching the mystical things we call ‘youth’ and ‘sociology’ whilst trying desperately to combine the two,* I have more experience than most when it comes to working with ‘young people’. So recruiting adolescent boys – right up my street.

Three years ago, I set out on my PhD journey to examine young people’s relationship with alcohol and how they framed their choices about drinking. I knew instinctively that, to some degree, I needed to conduct qualitative research (I also did a systematic review and a Q methodology study, but those are sagas for different posts). This ruled out working in schools, who couldn’t see what was wrong with handing out a survey to the masses. Instead, I wanted to speak to young people alone for up to an hour. And I wanted to do it without parental consent (a topic for yet another post). Absolutely no go in schools, I’m afraid.

So I set out far and wide for youth centres, youth offending teams, and youth and inter-generational projects. I hung out with the youth parliament, on ‘mobile youth buses’ and toured Eldon Green on Friday evenings with youth workers. I took part in air hockey competitions to ‘win’ an interview, made home-made jewellery and watched more Emmerdale and Eastenders than is healthy for your psyche. I became known to the young people of Newcastle as ‘that Mackem alcohol bird researcher’.

Young people in Newcastle
Sometimes, I had to spend several weeks attending a youth group before anyone would agree to be interviewed. Other times, young people would agree straightaway. Regardless, I ended up with fascinating, rich interviews, from an equal split of boys and girls. And all of this was achieved with no incentives. Each young person gave up their time freely and willingly.

I don’t believe that the ability to engage young people (and I do think this is a better term than 'recruit youth') in research rests on being young, female, or a native to the North East – although I am all of these things. What I do think it rests on is how you treat the people you interview.

Young people are not a group that should be considered ‘different’. In fact, thinking of ‘adolescent boys’ as a distinct group that might be hard to recruit is probably the reason why they become difficult to recruit. Like everyone, young people just wanted to be listened to and to know what they were contributing to by taking part in research .

That’s it folks. No other magic tricks required.

*Yes, I’m a sociologist working in a public health department. Please don’t judge me.

1 comment:

  1. Great insight Steph. The question this raises is one that we have asked in relation to people who deliver highly successful behaviour change interventions (e.g. for weight loss). Although you claim no magic, some people do seem to have a magic touch when it comes to people skills. Are these skills we can teach, or is it a personality test we need?