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Challenging power dynamics and eliciting marginalized adolescent voices through qualitative methods

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Written by Nicola Jones

Hero image description: Rohingya children drawing pictures of what they witnessed in Myanmar Image credit:Anna Dubuis/DfID

Eliciting adolescents’ voices through qualitative research necessitates research methods which challenge the power dynamics that marginalize young people and thus inhibit them from sharing their perspectives. In lower- and middle-income countries where younger adolescents in particular are often discouraged from expressing their voices, this is especially important. Methodological tools which are adaptable, interesting and create space within the research process for participation and freedom of expression are critical when eliciting the ‘voices’ of young people aged 10–14 years, who are often less visible or accessible and thus marginalized both socially and within research processes. For example, adolescents with disabilities or those out of school may require methodological adaptations to ensure meaningful participation.

This article focuses on the ethical, practical and data quality issues that emerge when engaging with young adolescents that are marginalized both in research and within their own communities, and the need to ensure complementarity between the process of the research and its broader objective of expanding adolescent capabilities. Bearing in mind these challenges, this paper reflects on the methodological toolkit developed by the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) research project as a means for eliciting a diversity of adolescent voices and ensuring that socially excluded adolescents are not ‘left behind’, nor included on a merely tokenistic basis. We suggest that the strengths of the GAGE methodological toolkit lie in its grounding within broader research objectives vis-a-vis expanding adolescent capabilities and challenging structures and norms which marginalize young people. The flexibility, reflexivity and importantly the enjoyability of these methods led to adolescents both feeling at ease, able and willing to contribute their voices to the research – as well as empowered to use their voices in other areas of their lives.

Rohingya children drawing pictures of what they witnessed in Myanmar
Kate Pincock and Nicola Jones