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Design Research Get Lost: An asset-based approach to support young people to self-organise

Project: Funded ProjectResearch

23/06/15 → …

Participation is a common feature of research and social design projects, between academics and designers and communities. There are many reasons for participatory research and design in that it, for example, reduces power imbalances between academics and citizens and helps produce projects that are relevant to the real world. There are however concerns that participation in research, especially young people are involved, is not as real or as substantive as is claimed and instead there is a form of contrived participation or compliance. There are many reasons why this is the case but we focus on two:

1. Academics are under pressure to develop clear plans of what they intend to do to get funding and ethical clearance, and there is pressure that the research is successfully implemented creating high-impact and robust academic findings. Thus when the research begins and the participants participate what they are asked to do tends to be predefined and there is a hope that they will fulfil their roles to make sure things run to plan (Fox 2007, 2013; Dentith et al. 2009).

2. When young people participate in research, there is a tendency for researchers to perceive and engage with them in terms of their deficits rather than their abilities and assets. So a participatory project might work with a group of young people to teach them how to be an artist or a designer. Some argue that this is a form of control of young people, trying to make them fit into the project and by extension what they researcher wants the project to be (Foucault 1997, Vromen and Collin 2010).
The aim of the research project is to work with and treat young people in terms of the skills, knowledge and assets they already posses and seek to create ways of working that help them self-organise to do things they would like to do. We will work with two groups of young people with impressive skills and abilities in DIY digital making (Manchester Coder Dojo) and self-organisation (Woodcraft Folk). The research focuses on how we as adult researchers learn from cutting-edge design practice to create a space that supports the young people to self-organise. It is important to recognise that the intention of the research is not a 'let the pieces fall where they may' experiment of whether young people can self-organise - this question has been answered and young people can do this admirably. Instead, we will pose a 'challenge' involving a series of conditions (i.e., your parents must let you do the activity) and ask them to self-organise to do something they want to do and give them a budget of £3,000.

The research will have two components, from the adult researcher and young person perspective.
1. As researchers we will carry out participant observations of how the young people respond to the challenge of self-organising and whether this is an effective way of bringing young people together and avoiding contrived participation. Then, after the research, we will write autoethnographic accounts of how we as adult researchers engaged with the challenges of letting go of the power in research situations to young people.
2. As part of the challenge we will ask the young people to record and document what they did and how they did it. We do not want to impose any particular way of researching on them. We hope they will use a range of print and digital media to share what they did and why, which we will curate appropriately to celebrate their achievements.
From the research we will produce an academic paper and a two-page findings report to share with practitioners.