Learning from youth

What happens when marginalized and oppressed youth are invited to participate as equal partners in research about their educational experiences?

The Council of Youth Research, based in Los Angeles and highlighted in an article published in the Teachers College Record (2013) , provide compelling testimony. This team of researchers, comprised of students and faculty at both the high school and college level, is doing amazing and innovative research on educational inequity in their city.  The team’s methods, insights, and reports serve as a model for the awesome potential of youth participatory action research.

The authors describe a comprehensive research plan that entails various forms of qualitative research in conjunction with quantitative data analysis.  The research team is also intentional about making sure all voices are included and represented equally.  For me, the most impressive aspect of the team’s work is the variety and creativity of ways in which the youth share their findings.  They use a multimedia approach that includes articles, PowerPoint presentations, video documentaries, and even rap.

I am inspired by the variety of methods the team uses to convey knowledge.  The multifaceted approach is intentionally inclusive, aimed so that a multitude of stakeholders can access the research findings.  It is accessibility at its finest.  This appeals to me both as someone who values inclusion and as a researcher committed to conducting research that benefits people.  Too often, research results are confined to arcane academic journals or conferences that only a privileged minority can access.  Sadly, social science research that actually could make a positive difference is not shared with people in positions of power who could implement interventions.  I am drawn to the idea of disseminating knowledge gleaned from action research in multiple ways so that more people can be exposed to and benefit from it.  Thus, one of the key lessons I learned from reading this article is that it is not only important to use a variety of methods to conduct research; it is paramount to use a variety of methods to distribute research findings.

After reading this article, I am excited about the possibilities offered by youth participatory action research and eager to try it in my own work.  My goal is to ultimately produce an innovative intervention to improve the retention, satisfaction, and success of ASU freshmen, and it seems that the most effective way to do this would be to partner with this population in designing a study to better understand their needs and experiences.  I am convinced after reading this article that involving individuals in all phases of research intended to benefit their community is the best way to achieve success.

My main concern is regarding how I could possibly replicate the practices used by the Council of Youth Research.  The time commitment required by university researchers and the high school students is enormous.  As noted by the authors of the article, Council members met for approximately 40 hours per week.  I wonder how the adults were able to get students to agree to such an extensive time commitment.  Even if I were able to figure out a way to get a group of ASU freshmen to agree to a similar schedule, it would be impossible for me to do so, given my status as a full-time employee.  I wonder what alternative arrangements might be feasible for arriving at results similar to those presented by the Council.


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory
Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth
Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303),1­23.

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