Conducting research with children: Research questions and participation tools

With the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by the UN General Assembly children’s rights have gained further impact on the duties and actions of governments, civil society and other stakeholder in order to fulfill them. The Time to Talk project focuses on the obligation to involve children in decision making processes that concern them. It is stated in the UNCRC Article 12:

“States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child” (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12)

Enabling a meaningful and ethical participation of children is a challenge – there is no doubt – and there is no prefabricated way of doing so. For instance Time to Talk faced this challenge in the course of the planning phase of the project. The steering committee consulted intensely with professionals on child participation to guarantee a research process that ensures their t ight to express their views and influence their own lives is respected. Different approaches and models for research have been discusses until it was agreed to apply the children’s rights-based approach of Laura Lundy to the project and research design. Lundy’s approach acknowledges children as rights-holders that “repositions them as the subjects rather than the objects of research and ultimately as research participants”

Time to Talk’s research structure includes the participation of working children in an active and meaningful consultation process and additionally counts on the participation of children as co-researchers. The “Children’s Advisory Committees” (CAC) have been established to advise on the complete research process of the project. This included the testing of the different child friendly methods and tools of the consultations, advising on improvements on the engagement with children, assistance with the interpretation of the findings of the conducted research and identification of strategies, solutions and demands for further action on the research topic. The CACs involved working children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East and Europe.  They enable a children’s active role throughout the process ad  advisers, analysts and advocates.

The following research questions informed the designing of the creative methods and tools of the Time to Talk research process:

Overview of research questions and consultation Tools

Research QuestionsConsultations Tools
Under which conditions do children work?
(sector, wage, social security)
What work are girls/boys of different ages undertaking in different settings?
How many hours/ day and days/ weeks do girls and boys work?
Is the work paid or unpaid?
How much are girls and boys of different ages paid?
Are children entitled to any social security, holiday pay or other benefits? If so, what?

What are the reasons and motivations for children’s work (including helping families)?
What are the different reasons and motivations for children’s work?
To what extent do children have a say in decisions about what work and how much work they do?
Why do some children not work?
Individual Questionnaire and Consent Form
Which is mandatory for each child who is part of the consultations (involves interviews with their child& their parent/guardian).
How does the experience of working affect children’s protection, well-being and development?

What do girls and boys think about their work and how does it affect their current and future lives?
How do girls and boys balance work (paid work and/or chores), school, play and other opportunities?
What do girls/boys like about their work? Why?
What are the benefits and advantages of working?
What do girls/boys dislike about their work? Why?
What are the challenges and risks faced when working?
What are the disadvantages?

What are children’s future hopes and aspirations?
Do their current work and study opportunities help or hinder girls and boys in realising their aspirations?

What type of work do they think children ca, should and cannot or should not do?
What type of work do girls and boys think is and is not appropriate for their age and capacity? Why?

What are differences in children’s experiences and views and how are they influenced by gender, age, disability, socio-cultural, political context, etc.?
What are the reasons and motivations for children to work? & what are the reasons why some children do not work? Why? Why? Why? To explore different reasons and motivations for use in FDGs with girls or boys of similar ages and backgrounds &/or with Children’s Advisory Committee Members.

A day in the life of... timeline that helps explore the time allocated to chores, paid work, study, play and other opportunities on i) school days and/or ii) on non-school days

Body Mapping to explore likes & disliked of children’s work for use in FDGs with girls or boys of similar aged and working backgrounds.

Creative expression (e.g. drama) on most significant benefits and most significant challenges faced when working.

Mapping work we can do and should do and work we cannot or should not do for use in FDGs with girls or boys of similar ages and backgrounds.

Individual draw and write, poem or sharing of their story (oral, written, visual or through puppets) about why they work, their likes or disliked about child work (including helping their families), their future hopes and whether work helps/hinders them in achieving their hopes; their action and advocacy initiatives; and/or their suggestions on how to improve the lives of working children.

Child Led Tour showing where they work (or help their parents) and sharing what they like and do not like about their work.

Visioning Tree (part A) to explore their future vision, whether their current work and study opportunities helps or hinders them in realising their future goals and dreams.
What protection and risk factors can be identified which increase the likelihood of experiencing positive or negative outcomes of child work?Protection and risk factor discussion activity
With Children’s Advisory Committee members building upon initial analysis of consultation results.
How can children be protected from the worst forms of child labour and hazardous exploitative work?
What should parents/ children’s organisations/ CBOs& community elders/ NGOs/ employers/ police/ local government/ national government do to protect children from harmful work and risks?
How can agencies support work/working conditions that have beneficial outcomes?
What do children and young people know and think about current international and national policies, laws, and approaches and what do they think would work better for them?
How can children and supportive adults undertake local level advocacy or higher level advocacy to improve the lives of working children?
What are key messages for higher level advocacy?
Flowers of support activity to identify what key groups of people should do to improve the situation of working children & to prioritise at least one group of people to try to influence

H assessment of existing policies, laws and approaches to explore children’s views of current international and national policies, laws, and approaches concerning child work and their suggestion to improve them.

Visioning tree (part B: roots- building on existing strengths, and Part C: trunk- developing action/advocacy plan to improve children’s situation.)

Venn Diagram: Mapping of decision makers to help identify key decision makers who can be influenced to improve the lives of working children.

The Time to Talk research toolkit was developed to provide the implementing civil society organisations with a practical guide to the participatory research. It was used for capacity building and allowed the research to be primarily qualitative and exploratory using focus group discussions and participatory activities with small groups of girls and boys.

You can download the toolkit in English, Spanish and French for free! The Time to Talk project encourages everyone to make use of the developed methods and tools in order to continue the capacity building of civil society actors working with children in the area of participation!