partnership working

Enabling young people to take the lead in research

updated on 18 Oct 2023
3 minutes

In the final blog in our series focused on equity-conscious and youth-centred engagement practice, Lewis Hou poses the question: How can young people take the lead in research focused on the issues that matter to them directly?  

Panel presentation at Living Knowledge Conference 2022

16 / 08 / 2023

Circling back to the statement I made in the first blog of this series: Supporting equity means recognising young people for who and where they are, and valuing their perspectives, often in a wider system that does not. Ultimately to centre young people in research is to trust them and share power accordingly.  

Whilst there is an important place for enabling this through empowering their trusted practitioners and intermediary organisations, the most immediate way to centre young people is to fund them directly to lead this work.  

This is one of the things we are exploring with The Ideas Fund in partnership with the British Science Association and Wellcome. The programme is looking more broadly at how partnerships with researchers can be genuinely led by communities at all stages of the research - from setting the agenda and questions most important to them, holding the funding, deciding on their research partner, and addressing local issues around mental wellbeing. 

We particularly aimed to work with groups who are underrepresented in research, including those who have never held funding before. As Development Coordinators for the Highlands and Islands, ensuring young people were involved throughout was especially important for us. For example, we had the Highland Youth Convener on our community panel for funding grants. This led to several projects involving young peer researchers, from exploring what’s needed to support mental wellbeing for young LGTBQI+ and neurodiverse people in Inverness, to researching the lack of safe spaces for young people in Shetland. 

In the Shetland project, two young peer researchers Akira and Shannon were trained and supported by the research partners to lead it and directly work with the wider OPEN Space group to formulate questions together, collect and process the evidence, and present this to key stakeholders on the Isle to shape policy. Whilst there are still concerns that these findings will simply be taken and young people won’t be involved in the implementation of the solution, the impact of the research has changed how the group works. This model of working and the skills developed are now being used to explore different questions, including around local youth drug and alcohol use.  

This is far from the only example of youth-led research and it is encouraging to see how community-based research is also recognised in the new strategy for UK Research and Innovation, the biggest research funder in the UK. This to me signals a desire fora genuine shift of power in grant-making systems. We now need to identify how funders can fully enablethis type of work further to support young people on their own terms. They should be the ones leading co-production with researchers, not the other way round, and this will bring new insights and voices to the table. 

Whilst I appreciate most people are notin a position to be able to fund activities, this wider work helps us to reflect on how current engagement structures can replicate hierarchies of power within research and society. We can all navigate and challenge that in different ways, listening to and centring groups to ensure our work is more youth-led and equity-conscious, and therefore benefits the people who need it most. 


Further resources 

By Lewis Hou, Founder & Director Science Ceilidh   

This blog series is supported by the Science Learning Plus (SL+) programme. The NCCPE along with the British Science Association (BSA) and NatCen Social Research (NatCen),delivered the final phase of the programme, working with the 5 funded projects to consolidate the lessons learnt and engage with research, practice and policy stakeholders to advocate for more support, funding and investment in ISL.