By Dr Michaela James, Researcher at the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research
Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) states that children and young people have the right to be listened to and taken seriously. It states that they should be considered when making decisions about things that involve them and that we should not dismiss them based on their age. In research, this is often overlooked. We, as adults, believe we know what’s best. We believe we know what’s essential to research, what questions need to be answered and how we should communicate our findings. However, we should involve children and young people in the research process.
At the National Centre for Population Health and Wellbeing Research (NCPHWR), our work with this age group is underpinned by a rights-based approach and has co-production with young people at its core. Research projects such as ACTIVE and RPlace highlight this. Encompassing Article 15 (the right to be associated with spaces) and Article 31 (the right to participate and play), these have been informed by young people from inception to delivery to outputs.
ACTIVE began with young people telling us that accessibility was the main barrier to being physically active. It led to the co-design of an intervention to overcome this, with young people receiving activity-enabling vouchers and the opportunity to have a say on what activities they would like to do. As a result, we found that they want more choices to do fun, unstructured and social activities in their local communities and, in doing so, we can improve fitness, heart health and motivation. However, conversations with young people still told us access to local spaces is limited.
This led to the development by the team of RPlace, a mobile app where young people can rate and review their local spaces. Young people have designed this for young people, with feedback sought at every stage of development. The aim is to influence change in local communities via a citizen science approach, with young people collecting and disseminating findings to local groups such as the council.
Co-production is now a prominent part of the NCPHWR. We have now developed Co-production of Research and Strategy (CORDS), a standard operating procedure (SOP) for co-production, acknowledging that co-production in research should not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The core values of the centre’s approach to co-production include:
- Inclusivity: Everyone is important and is an asset. Taking into account different experiences, backgrounds, beliefs & cultures.
- Flexibility: Embracing the messiness of working in different systems and being able to adapt and amend approaches where needed based on the wants and needs of the user group.
- Authenticity: The process is authentic, where everybody benefits from engagement. It is in-built and ingrained in the research process.
- Reflectivity: Being able to reflect, refine & repeat. Acknowledging that you are not the expert & can always learn.
Key Principles of Co-Production via CORDS
Our aim is not to provide a complete guide. Instead, the SOP aims to give some clarity based on evidence and examples from previous projects co-produced by members of the public that NCPHWR researchers developed. We highlight that co-production can happen at any stage of the research. For instance, we have recently developed a survey to explore young people’s experiences of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and how they would like to be supported. Young people have been involved in helping to advertise the survey by helping us develop an advert for social media and providing feedback on ways to make the survey inclusive and engaging for their age group. So, co-production can happen right from the start. Or, like ACTIVE, co-production can help form the next steps of projects and future direction.
What is essential is that co-production needs to be authentic. This is to ensure that young people are represented fully and the purpose of it is clear. The research team ensures that different perspectives, experiences, skills, and knowledge are included in the process. Everyone’s time and contributions should be valued so that everyone should benefit from working together.
Young people are the experts on matters that affect them, and we should give them a voice.