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Best Practices: Market Research with Children & Young People

Many of the difficulties that qualitative market researchers have to overcome when working with adult participants – ranging from a participants self-consciousness to fear of causing offence – have a tendency to disappear when conducting market research with children and young people. Not only are they far less likely to censor their own opinions, but they also have their own unique perspective on products and services. Children and young people are still developing, and as a result, the way they communicate, think and interact with others will bring different insights to that of an adult.  

That said, there are also certain challenges that can arise when doing research studies with a younger demographic - from dealing with various regulations and adhering to ethical and legal requirements to simply trying to get them to sit still! Complexities can also arise from an extended range of factors, such as economic background, mental age and what the children and young people can actually understand. Read on to find out best practices and techniques for conducting successful market research with children... 

First Things First: Consent

By far the biggest factor to consider when approaching the idea of qualitative market research with children and young people in is consent. But what is the difference between children and young people, exactly 

According to the MRS guidelinesa child is defined as those under the age of 16 years old, and a young person is defined as those aged 16 and 17 years old. Consent must be granted from a responsible adult (this may be a parent, guardian, nanny, teacher or grandparent) as well as the child or young person. 

Until you have gained consent from a responsible adult and recorded who this is by name and their relationship to the child, you cannot proceed with the research. The child needs to confidently give their consent and be fully aware that they can withdraw at any time. Furthermore, for the research to be truly useful, the child really must want to take part, and the design of the project must consider the child or young person’s age and level of understanding. 

If the research happens to involve sensitive subjects (such conducting research on behalf of child-specific charities or support services), then the adult's consent is even more critical. If the research could potentially distress a child, they should not be asked to participate at all. Both adult and child should be well aware that the child can withdraw from the research at any time. If research is being conducted in a school – which is becoming more common – the head teacher can act as loco parentis and give permission for the child to take part in the research. However,  consent should also be obtained from the parent and best practice would be to let all parents at the school know research is happening. This is especially applicable if the research will be filmed. 

Methodologies for Qualitative Market Research with Children and Young People

Conducting focus groups with children and young people can be can be especially effective as it enables you to create a positive, friendly atmosphere where sharing opinions feels comfortable and natural for the participants. The face-to-face nature that is usually associated with this method is also good for the researcher, who is able to observe the responses to the discussion and interaction between other participants. However, focus groups with children and young people also work well over the phone or online, should it not be possible to meet in person.  

If opting for this method with children and young people, be mindful of the numbers you have in a group – naturally too many may cause too much excitement, but smaller numbers may hinder engagement. We’d recommend a group of no more than six participants. Equally, consider the age ranges that you have per group – for example, five-year-olds will have very different abilities to ten-year-olds, and you don’t want this to hinder the progression of the focus group. It would be worth bearing in mind the level of skill required from a moderator when conducting focus groups with children. This would need to be a highly skilled moderator as it can be challenging ensuring constant engagement and participation from younger children.

Consider using icebreaker activities to help the children feel welcome at the start of the group and get to know each other as well as the moderator – this will create a positive, more relaxed environment, and will be more likely to generate better responses from the participants.

Naturally, this group can become shy, embarrassed or nervous during market research studies, and one suggestion to overcome the disruption this can cause to the group would be to let that particular child work on a separate task on their own – allowing them to be a lot more comfortable.

Another good method for approaching market research with children and young people is the one-to-one Interview, which can be done either face-to-face, or on the phone This technique gives the researcher the ability to build a real rapport with the participant that creates trust between them, thus encouraging them to offer honest responses. With no one else taking part, the child/young person can open up to the interviewer and speak their mind without succumbing to any potential peer pressure or distraction from other participants. Interviews with young people (remember this is classified as 16-17-year-olds) can be done over the phone, but face-to-face sessions are usually preferable. 

Children in Qualitative Research

Making Sure the Child/Young Person Feels Secure

In-home interviews are often ideal because a young person or child will typically feel more comfortable in their own environment. That can be particularly important if the researcher is investigating a sensitive topic area. Of course, if for whatever reason it is not possible to be physically present in the child’s home, video calls can be utilised.  

It is best practice for the moderator to call the child and parent prior to conducting the in-home research in order to introduce themselves and clearly explain what the research is about. We recommend sending a profile of the moderator (including a photograph) to the families prior to the research as this helps create a soft introduction.

You could also consider offering the child a pre-task to complete prior to the interview as this will help warm them up for the research and gives a good starting point for discussion.

Obviously, parents need to be involved in the lead-up to the research, but during it, their involvement can vary. It’s not normally necessary for a parent to be present during an interview with a child or young person, but it is advisable that they stay in the building or on the video call, or are otherwise easily contactable.

As stated in the MRS guidelines, a DBS check is not required for market research – unless the interviewer is required to have prolonged contact with children and young people. However, it is an advisable process as it will help the participants and the responsible adults to feel more at ease with taking part in the research. You can visit the DBS website to find a list of disclosure categories. If you are based in Scotland, it is advisable to register with the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme. 

Providing Incentives to Participants

As with market research involving adults, you may also want to offer incentives to children and young people. Common incentives for children include age-appropriate products or vouchers, whereas for young people this can include non-monetary gifts as well. We’d highly recommend vouchers that are of interest to the child, but that are easy to spend – for example, iTunes vouchers are popular, but keep in mind that a younger child may not have an account so it may need to be given directly to the parent on behalf of the child.  
You must not take along a product of the sponsoring company to offer as an incentive. We’d also recommend offering the parent or guardian an incentive as they are likely to have a lot of involvement whilst supervising the child through the recruitment, pre-task stage and the research itself. Any incentive provided should be safe, legal, and acceptable to both children and adults. 

Want to find out more?

If you’re setting up market research with children and young people,  whether that’s a one-to-one interview or a focus group with children,  you’ll want to ensure that all the time, money and effort you put in gets you the insight you’re after. To learn more about how to find the right respondents for your research, be sure to download our Ultimate Guide to Qual Market Research Recruitment below... 

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