How we ensure participants’ voices are heard: Data collection methods

By Saraswati Dawadi
ReMaLIC explores marginalised children’s, and their parents’ and teachers’ lived experiences of using technology and accessing education, and their perceived value of the English language, in four under-resourced countries: Bangladesh, Nepal, Senegal and Sudan. The main rationale for this study is that it brings the least heard voices to the forefront – so that they can reach educators, policy makers and the public, promoting further discussions on how to provide marginalised children with better access to technology to enhance their learning, improve education systems and reduce marginalisation in the target countries. Hence, the premise of our study is that marginalised children (along with their parents and teachers) have important things to tell us about matters that concern them, and their voices need to be heard. We wanted to give power and voice to our research participants, which may provide insights into their subjective world (i.e., their lived experiences, the way they construct their own identity and perceive themselves, and the ways in which they perceive other members of their society). We believe that giving power and voice to research participants involves issues of research methodology that can create an opportunity for participants “to express their views freely and contribute to research agendas” (Grover, 2004, p.28). We have used a qualitative research design and sought to privilege the voices, experiences, and lives of marginalized children along with their parents and teachers by involving them as active participants in our study.
As Chandler et al. (2015) rightly point out, “one of the tenets of qualitative research is the emphasis and honoring of the participants’ own words as generative of meaning and knowledge” (p.1). We have used semi-structured interviews and focus groups as our main methods of data collection to facilitate conversation and participant engagement. The methods are informed by Creswell (1998), who argues that a qualitative researcher “builds a complex holistic picture, analyzes words, reports detailed views of informants, and conducts the study in a natural setting” (p. 15).
Furthermore, having considered Lansdown’s (2004) argument that researchers often misjudge children’s voices because “they assess children from an adult perspective and through an adult filtering process which diminishes children’s contribution” (p.5), we wanted to fully understand the situation of the marginalized children and enable their voices to be heard. Moreover, as de Leeuw et al. (2018) rightly point out, we believe that children are experts in their own situation and can contribute to educational research and initiatives. Therefore, we invited marginalised children to take part in this study and we tried as much as we could to give voice to the children.
During the data collection, our focus was on creating an environment that enables children to express their views freely to an adult researcher. For this, following Johnson et al. (2014), we used some key strategies such as: a) building supportive and trustful relationships with the children; b) creating a safe environment in which children feel able to speak in confidence and give their undivided attention; c) using every child’s name whenever possible as it conveys that the researcher is interested in them; d) praising the children often for their contributions and not dismissing their opinions or cutting across their conversations, and e) ensuring that all children are listened to and feel included.
Indeed, we have made every effort not to impose our views on children, but to encourage them to share their lived experiences of using technology and the English language in their learning. We listened to their views and respected each child. We also provided adequate responses to the questions that arose from children. Additionally, we took power dynamics into account that can lead children to respond in particular ways to interview questions. We even allowed some time for the children to lead discussions as it might make them feel that they have some power (Johnson, et al., 2014).
Furthermore, we are aware that research has long been connected with issues of power. As argued by Esterberg (2002), there is often a power inequality between research participants and researchers who often tend to have more power than the research participants. Therefore, we made efforts to address the power relationships that are embedded in our research. For instance, we tried our best to underplay our identity as a researcher in such a way that the social and knowledge gaps between ourselves and our participants are minimised. Additionally, to make participants feel more comfortable, we met them informally a couple of times and maintained a good rapport with them before interviewing them. We also used their own native languages for the data collection, we made interview questions simple and direct, avoiding jargon, and we used prompts to encourage further elaboration. The participants have been interviewed by local researchers who know their language and culture very well. All the researchers received training before they started their data collection.
Chandler, R., Anstey, E. & Ross, H. (2015). Listening to voices and visualizing data in qualitative research: Hypermodal dissemination possibilities. SAGE Open, 1–8.
de Leeuw, R. R., de Boer, A. A., & Minnaert, A. E. M. G. (2018). Student voices on social exclusion in general primary schools. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 33(2), 166-186, DOI: 10.1080/08856257.2018.1424783
Esterberg, K.G. (2002). Qualitative methods in social research. McGraw–Hill.
Grover, S. (2004). Why Won’t they listen to us? On giving power and voice to children participating in social research. SAGE Publications, 11(1), p. 81–93.
Johnson, V., Hart R., & Colwell, J. (2014). Steps to engaging young children in research. Volumnet 1: The Guide. University of Brighton.
Lansdown, G. (2004). Participation and young children. Early Childhood Matters, 103, 4–14.
Tearfund and Christian Aid (2021). Doing research ethically: Principles and practices for international development practitioners and evaluation. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/sd25784/Work%20Folders/Documents/all%20documents/from%20old%20laptop/Documents/KIX/ethics/resources/2021-Tearfund-Consortium-Doing-research-ethically-En.pdf

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