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Young voices, big impact, promising future

Engaging youth in research is considered a useful source of knowledge on development challenges since they usually provide fresh perspectives and also an effective way of empowering young participation. Involving the young in research processes is fairly new. Recent years have seen increasing global awareness and acceptance of the need to mobilize the creativity, vision and unique perspectives of young people for the present and future development of communities (UNESCO, empowering youth through national policies). Yet a systematic approach by local authorities is required to generate evidence and enhance a progressive participatory effort of youth throughout countries. Indeed, it is reasonable to include youth as partners in the design, implementation and evaluation of research involving issues that directly affect their future.

This post is based on a Project Briefing “Involving youth in development policy research: lessons learned” that explores lessons from a participatory research project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) on youth perspectives and responses to two global shocks– the global Triple F (financial, fuel and food) crisis of 2008 and climate change – in three developing countries: Ghana, Mozambique and Vietnam. Before addressing the study’s strategy and conclusions, some definitions are necessary.

But what is ‘Youth’? And what is ‘Participatory’?

Youth are defined as aged 15 to 24 years by the UNICEF paper: Adolescence: Age of opportunities. While Participatory research is ‘a family of approaches, behaviors and methods for enabling people to do their own appraisal, analysis and planning, take their own action and do their own monitoring and evaluation’(Chambers, 2002). Youth needs to view the research process as empowering to mirror their realities, generate local knowledge and solve their own problems (UNICEF, The state of the world’s Children Reports 2011).

The aforementioned research project was undertaken by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in 2011. In line with the definitions above, it entailed a one-year youth peer-to-peer research process with emphasis on capacity-building and mentoring for young researchers on methodological tools to use in the development of participatory research instruments, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with poor urban and rural youth, participatory photography techniques, media scrapbooks, fieldwork diaries and key stakeholder interviews. As part of the conclusions, the research team argues that effective and genuinely empowering peer-to-peer research with youth is a time and resource-intensive responsibility. A facilitator’s role is essential, while a detailed capacity assessment of youth researchers at the start of the project would be valuable to tailor the design of the project early on. The team also suggests recruiting young researchers who are already engaged in the relevant thematic area so that they have a deep interest in the findings.

The project was an important step for the young researchers to gain confidence in their research skills and ability to communicate. The project’ Facebook page enabled researchers to see similarities and differences in the experiences of global shocks faced by young people in different contexts. One other interesting finding from the project is that young researchers developed a nuanced sense of how global forces affect and impact local youth (see image above). The research team also gained insights on how the young groups use social media in communication. However, language barriers, time constraints and inadequate internet connectivity, were considered limiting factors.

The increasing attention to youth participation in research and hence policy development, aligns with the rising concerns of the spreading of social gaps and the encounter of uncertainties generated by globalization, decrease in mobility, difficulties to migration, unemployment and increasing violence trends especially amid religious fundamentalism and rogue states. Even though we live in the so called ’Information age’; the fact that young people are better educated and are more tuned in with the use of technology does not undermine the reality of increasing insecurity in labor market and social mobility.

الشباب دائماً رهان التغيير.

على الشيوخ والكهول وأهل الكهف أن يفسحوا لهم الطريق – عبد الغفار يوسف.