Participation in decision making: disempowerment, disappointment and different directions

Joy Trotter, Carol Campbell

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This paper considers the positioning within British social care research of young disengaged people who are invisible to formal support services. Using a recently completed research project as illustration and focusing primarily on mental health and well-being, it raises questions regarding the practical and ethical implications of engaging such young people to actively participate in research and other decision-making endeavours. The authors aimed to engage and empower young people aged between 17 and 21 years (who were not in employment, education or training) by enlisting them as co-researchers, with youth-friendly technology (mobile phones, video cameras, and MSN messaging) and involve them in decisions relating to each stage as the research progressed. Separate roles were adopted in the process: Carol provided consultation and project oversight, Joy worked as the primary researcher with the key support agency and the young researchers. Throughout the research project we questioned the practical and ethical implications of involving the young people as co-researchers. The fact that the young people were paid for each element of their involvement in the project, the use of inducements and the training of these young people to be co-researchers, felt exploitative rather than empowering. However, a small number of the young people continued with the project and, resisting the suggestions and aspirations of the researchers, made their own decisions and set their own agendas. In addition, one of the young men experienced a marked increase in social engagement and improved well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-275
JournalEthics & Social Welfare
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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