Top 10 tips for engaging young people in qualitative research

Richard shares his advice on what you should be considering to get the best out of young people during interviews and focus groups.

The recent referendum and the clear difference in opinion between the younger and older generations have placed young people and their irritation firmly in the news. Along with this, the anger that under 18’s are not able to vote is taking up considerable space on social medial so it is imperative that, in the fall-out from the Brexit, young people are included in the debate  as to how their society is to be shaped.

Mustard Research has experience of consulting with young people from a broad range of backgrounds – including young offenders, people that are ‘NEET’ (not in education, employment or training) and young homeless people and here are our Top 10 tips for consulting with young people through qualitative research.

Ways to engage with young people

1. Language – The language used in the discussion guide and supporting materials should be kept simple, easy to understand but never patronising. Avoid using language that children and young people may perceive as trying too hard to be ‘down with the kids’; they can spot this a mile off!

2. Venue – If conducting a group session or an interview, use a suitable venue that will put the young people at ease. A boardroom setting may be intimidating. Try and hold the group or interview somewhere the respondent is familiar with, and lay it out informally. The moderator / interviewer should also dress informally to put the young people more at ease.

3. Breaking the ice – Beginning with an informal chat will ‘break the ice’ and reduce tension or nerves. Stress that the discussion is completely confidential and that you are not going to repeat anything they say to parents/ guardians / teachers or directly attribute their comments to any other authority figures. Let them know that there are no right or wrong answers; it is their opinion that is of interest.

4. Relevance of objectives – Reiterate the importance of the research objectives and ensure they are relevant to the respondents. Emphasise that their opinions matter, make them feel that what they are doing is a worthwhile exercise.

5. Listening – Actively listen to what the young people are saying, offering encouragement and sensitivity where necessary. Do not dismiss any of their answers. Refer back to earlier answers within ensuing conversations.

6. Sensitivity – Sensitive discussions or questions can take place in the third person, so that attention and potential embarrassment can be diverted from individuals.

7. Attention – Keep the discussion shorter than a ‘traditional’ group or interview.  Some younger people can lose interest and get distracted more easily if discussion goes on for too long.

8. Projective techniques – To avoid boredom with a ‘dry’ discussion guide, use interactive and creative methods, such as creating mood boards, posters, introducing different projective techniques, e.g. using treemen or emoji’s – see our blog on the top 10 projective techniques for more information.

9. Group size – Keep group sizes smaller than traditional focus groups. As well as being easier to control, it is beneficial for any shy young people who might be embarrassed to speak up in front of large numbers of their peers. Smaller groups may also prevent other more outgoing, confident young people from showing off.

10. Friendship pairs – Consider recruiting young people in friendship pairs; having a friend with them may put young people at ease if they are unsure about speaking up in a group of strangers.

If you have any questions about conducting focus groups or depth interviews or even want Mustard to conduct these on your behalf then please contact me at or give me a call on 0161 235 5270