Jane Powers and Christine Heib on Youth in Research

Hi, we are Jane Powers and Christine Heib from Cornell University.  We have been collaborating with a community agency to assess the needs and numbers of homeless youth in the county.  In order to study this invisible sector of the youth population, we engaged a group of homeless youth as research partners.  They helped develop the survey, recruit and interview subjects, interpret findings, and made presentations to key community stakeholders.  Here are some of their lessons learned:

Hot Tips: Connecting with Hard-to-Reach Youth:

  • Go to where youth hang out: “Since we have been there ourselves, we know where to find homeless youth. We are connected to these networks. Knowing one person can open you up to a whole group–people who see what is going on and want to participate.”
  • Offer incentives:  “Offering a food coupon for the interview worked well: people are hungry and did the survey for a free meal.”
  • Stress the “why” of the project: “Homeless youth don’t like how they are living. We tell them how this information will be used and some of the concrete changes that have taken place because of this project, like more housing options.”
  • Emphasize confidentiality: “Homeless youth are worried about being judged. It helped to remind people ‘No one will know who you are – they just need to know what help you need.’”
  • Be open:  “It helps to say that you have been homeless yourself. This makes them more comfortable and willing to be honest; they know they won’t be judged for their responses. Be kind, be respectful, listen well, don’t be judgmental, show that you care.”

Hot Tips: Engaging Youth as Research Partners:

  • Make it fun: “Youth are very responsive when they are excited to be a part of a project and have a good time while doing it.”
  • Involve youth from the start:  “Since we helped design the survey, we felt that it was our project:  these were our questions, not just ones we were told to ask.  We really cared about the answers.”
  • Help them see the benefits: “Going through the IRB training was a self esteem booster; it gave me confidence that I could do this.”  “I learned how to make people more aware of their problems and who to talk to for help.”  “Now I can see that if people work together they can make changes; I used to think no one cares – not now!”

Rad Resources:

Project Final Reports:

For resources on Youth Participatory Evaluation, you may find the following useful:

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