Christine Grové, Monash University, Australia

Around the world young people are actively contributing to change. For example, in the United States, youth have championed for gun control across the country in extraordinary ways (Rennie, 2018) (and in sub-Saharan Africa, they are leaders in advocating and enacting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In Asia, young people were critical to developing government responses to the HIV epidemic (Cahill, Beadle and Coffey, 2013). With the spread of COVID-19 leading to rapid and unprecedented change, it is critical to include young people as key stakeholders in research, policies and programming so that their voices and ideas can be heard and acted upon.

While there is a growing pool of such participatory research, the roles that young people tend to take are consultative and it is less common for them to have an active influence on the execution of the research (Groundwater-Smith, 2011; Hart, 1992; Sinclair, 2004). Yet young people have rights inscribed in law and policy to have their say in educational matters that pertain to them. For example, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (26), to which Australia is a signatory, articles 12 and 13 articulate that it is youths’ right to express their views when adults are making decisions that affect them, and to have these opinions taken into account. Young people can contribute to bringing reform and change forward, particularly with regard to social inclusion and wellbeing (Bale et al., 2020). This case study provides an analysis of a participatory, visual research project where young people aged 14 to 17 years were key stakeholders and co-researchers. The research shows how young people were authoritative commentators on their own experiences and were engaged with as active partners in research. This project acknowledges young people not only as beneficiaries of research developed by adults, but also (or instead) as competent agents who should be engaged with via participatory and inclusionary practices.

The participatory approach used included multiple methods for collaborating with young people to encourage their active contribution in research, creating space for their active participation, and to ascertain key communication messages that yield rich insights into youth experiences (Grové et al., 2020). The aim of the research was to bridge participatory qualitative research processes to understand the views of a group of 10 young people from the state of Victoria in regard to their schooling experiences. The research had two components: 1) a preliminary documenting exercise, trialling a digital and photovoice data-collection process and beginning to enact the core practices of this project, which included four participatory workshops, and 2) two in-depth, semi-structured dialogues with young people. One of the key innovations of this research was to adapt the methodology and critical theory used in recent research on inclusive practices and apply it to the field for the first time.

‘Youth booth’: A participatory, youth-led photovoice and digital exhibition

Young people invited local communities, schools, teachers, parents, researchers and policy- makers to listen to their voices and perspectives on why, how and for whom we need to cultivate such agency in education. The outcomes of the project set the stage for more collaborative policy-making and practices to foster the participation and engagement of young people in matters that directly affect them.

The ‘Youth Booth’ is a visual exhibition that showcased the collective work produced by 10 young people in Victoria, Australia (Grové, 2020). Key messages include: the impact of poor mental health, study stress and expectation; living in a world of social media influencers; being digitally savvy; and the direct effect of climate change. Youth dialogues suggest that it’s this complex combination of situations that impacts the inclusivity and diversity of young people in education.

Young people jointly contributed to dissemination and communication through a youth-informed stakeholder exhibition (Grové et al., 2021). The exhibition aimed to: 1) highlight the work of young people in four participatory, collaborative workshops; 2) present ways in which participatory visual methodologies can be used to support the rights and perspectives of young people; 3) raise awareness of the need to build on the perspectives of young people to foster more inclusive communities; and 4) connect young people with their school communities. At the end of the exhibition, the young people in this exhibition have also expressed a call to action.  Visit www.monash.edu/youth-booth-exhibition/ideas-for-change to read their ideas, hear their voices, see their perspectives and use them to foster social change.

Dissemination is the final but crucial step in this methodological approach, with the goal of exposing an audience to the images and meaning generated by participants, to encourage community discussion, and to promote policy change and action within the community (Foster-Fishman et al., 2013). Communicating research findings is also critical in guiding and inspiring future research (Resnick, 2014). Resnick (2014) lists a set of three rules for the dissemination of research, which we have attempted to follow in this project. Rule 1 is to share freely so that diverse individuals and groups may benefit from what we have learned and subsequently build on our work. Rule 2 is to share all aspects of our research process, including the planning, designing and conducting of the research project, so that others may learn from our successes and failures. Finally, Rule 3 pertains to communicating about our research to those who need to know about it the most; these can be young people in difficult circumstances, policy-makers, community leaders, schools and families, among others. Ways of disseminating research findings can be myriad. Bergold and Thomas (2012) draw distinctions between traditional academic writing and the representation of participatory research findings. Fundamentally, the representation of the results needs to be more than only academic texts and include representations that are accessible and understandable for wider audiences, including the use of film, pictures and posters (Bergold and Thomas, 2012). This type of research is not only about data-gathering. It positions participants to be knowledge producers and to share knowledge to a wider audience.

In this project, dissemination and communication has taken a few forms:

  • community dissemination: physical and online exhibition, virtual reality showcase of physical exhibition, catalogues of exhibition, series of digital short films, short online Lens article and online Bridges repository of all the exhibition items;
  • academic communication: publication planning (forthcoming), research reports (five in this series) and conference presentations (forthcoming) with youth participants as co-presenters.

Youth-led exhibition and dissemination booklet

The role of young people as co-researchers does not end with the collection and analysis of data. Equally important in participatory visual research is the active involvement of young people in the decisions regarding dissemination or communication of the findings (Canosa et al., 2018). Vindrola-Padros and her colleagues (2016) have noted through their work with young people in a hospital setting that it is important to co-prepare dissemination of findings in a visually appealing manner in order to engage young people and make it accessible for them. Similarly, a physical exhibition space was selected by young people in the newly renovated Matheson library at Monash University (Grové et al., 2021). A launch showcasing participants’ key themes and messages was to take place on the evening of 23 March 2020. Group members were provided with an invitation to forward to their chosen guests, and were invited to register to attend the exhibition. A printed catalogue and guidebook were designed and organised for the visual data and blurbs, and the catalogue included participants’ call to action, to be shared at the exhibition. These were designed to provide recommendations for ways to address the issues identified by young people in the exhibition. Expression of interest links were sent out to schools, community centres and youth groups originally contacted during the recruitment phase, to invite them to attend the exhibition. Policy-makers, community members and members of Monash University faculty were also invited to attend.

The following are the calls to action identified by Youth Reference Group members in the final workshop, which were presented in the exhibition booklet:

‘Raising awareness about mental health issues and actually making a difference in society to reduce the amount of people affected by these issues… Doing more school activities to raise awareness and make a change… Teach more practical life skills at school.’ (Ishika Thakur)

‘To acknowledge young people’s opinions as they are the future.’ (Abhi Kariamal)

‘That young people are the next generation. There needs to be more support, and more recognition.’ (Group member)

‘Learn from young people in the community, give them a voice and listen to what they have to say.’ (Liz Solly)

‘Your small step and small decision can change the world in a positive way.’ (Shekiba Fuladi)

‘We’re here to help, show you believe in us by helping us.’ (Leila McMillan)

‘Do not undermine the effects of climate change… If all you’re doing is raising awareness without a direct action plan, what’s the point?’ (Edison Vong)

‘Mental health issues with teens – not only raise awareness but make a difference… Basic life skills taught in school.’ (Nikith Udayakumar)

References

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Acknowledgements

Youth key stakeholders: We acknowledge and thank all the participants who so graciously contributed to the development and dissemination of this research. Specifically, we express our gratitude to our youth participants – Liz, Leila, Sahly, Tamika, Edison, Shekiba, Ishika, Abhi, Rithvika and Nikith – as well as the project mentors and advisors: Emeritus Professor Peter Gronn and Professor Umesh Sharma. This research programme was funded by the Monash University Faculty of Education Research Small Grant.