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What is child-led research and why is it important?

Updated Tuesday, 11 December 2018
Research led by children and young people is crucial - here's three reasons why...

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young people doing project work Imagine you are 12 years old and you are given the opportunity to learn how to do your own social research into a topic that inspires you. Your research will go beyond what is already known and what is available in books or online etc. It will be you creating new knowledge. You will think of a topic you want to explore, create a question you want to answer, decide how to get information to help you answer it, get the information, then analyse it and tell other people what you find out.

Research led by children and young people is the process of learning about and doing research into something that is relevant to their own lives. There are many reasons that children and young people might decide to have a go at doing their own social research, such as wanting to find out more about a topic, wanting to change something, or wanting to learn about what doing social research is all about. All of these are important reasons for the Children’s Research Centre to support young researchers. Let’s have a closer look:

  • Wanting to find out more about a topic: Few people would deny that curiosity and inquisitiveness are good characteristics to encourage in children and young people of all ages. Asking questions and finding out new things are important for learning and for understanding the world. Finding out what other children in your school think about maths lessons, or what other young people understand about money, for example, can be fascinating. You can see a wide variety of research done by children and young people here.
  • Wanting to change something: Research led by children and young people can be important because it can help them to make their voices heard. The right for children and young people to be heard and to participate in society are both part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It could be, for example, that children want more say about local policy and decide to do some research which involves asking their peers for their opinions in order to create a strong argument that they can then take to policy-makers. Many people think that only children and young people are experts on their own lives; adults have an adult perspective, so it is important that children and young people are supported to make their own opinions and viewpoints heard.
  • Wanting to learn what social research is all about: Most children and young people have experience of project work at school (i.e. they find out about things that are already known) but few of them will have had an opportunity to find out what it is like to be a social researcher and to create new knowledge. The experience of doing social research and being a social researcher can be enlightening and can help children and young people to understand what research is and what researchers do. It might help them make career decisions and they can apply what they learn to their school lessons. You can read more about young people’s experiences of being a researcher.

If you are interested in learning more about the lives of young people, then please see the Open University prospectus about the Bachelor of Arts degree in Childhood and Youth Studies. Also, you might like to look at the Open University’s Postgraduate Prospectus.


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