Using a Participatory Research Methodology to Explore Young People’s Needs and Wants in Sexuality and Relationships Education

Year: 2016

Author: Harrison, Lyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research with young people can often be tokenistic or limited, drawing on ideas about ‘consultation’ which tend to seek young people’s views in a narrow manner with little space for participation in the research more broadly. This paper examines the possibilities of actively listening to and learning from and with young people in an effort to reconsider sexuality and relationships education. Using a participatory research methodology, the Engaging Young People in Sexuality Education (EYPSE) research project aims to give young people the opportunity to both provide feedback on the sexuality and relationships education they have experienced and explore what they would like to learn in sexuality and relationships education and how they would like to learn it. Rather than viewing participation as relating narrowly to methods and techniques, a participatory research methodology is a political and ethical commitment to disrupting and interrogating the binaries and power relations between researchers-teachers-students.The EYPSE research project uses a collection of methods across three linked stages which encourage explorations of students’ experiences of school-based sexuality and relationships education as well as the content and pedagogy they believe should be covered and used. The methods used include an online survey focusing on students’ experiences and wants in sexuality and relationships education, workshops exploring survey findings and student experiences in sexuality and relationships education, and participatory workshops focused on generating, exploring, and evaluating new ideas or alternatives for school-based sexuality education. This approach requires a degree of flexibility and fluidity from researchers in moving from a process of listening to learning from young people in curriculum design and research.Drawing on findings from the EYPSE research project, this paper will engage with the nuances and complexities of working towards more equitable frameworks for sexuality education with young people. This paper also outlines some critical considerations for researchers looking towards young people’s perspectives and active engagement in curriculum and research design.