Illustrating fieldnotes with cartoons to enhance participatory research with young children

Year: 2018

Author: Fashanu, Christina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Representing participants’ perspectives faithfully is a fundamental principle for participatory research, however this can be difficult to achieve, especially when the participants are young children. The aim of this paper is to explain how cartoons were used to assist the process of participatory research of young children. This paper takes the stance that children are fully-formed individuals with important opinions, whose wishes and feelings should be taken into consideration when making decisions that affect them (UNCRC, article 12) including in research.
The method was developed as part of a twelve-month study looking at the communicative practices of children in a ‘super-diverse’ (Vertovec, 2007), Early Years class. The paper describes how the cartoons facilitated a more participatory approach to ethnographic research as the children became engaged in their creation and interpretation. Simple, stick-figure drawings were sketched to illustrate the fieldnotes gathered from ethnographic observations and were later formalised using the children’s own self-portraits. The cartoons transformed written fieldnotes into an accessible format that allowed children to engage with the observations through a visual medium. As communication is multimodal, the cartoons enabled the researcher to capture these modes of communication more accurately than relying solely on written description. This multi-layered approach to sharing observations led to many enlightening conversations with the children and revealed deeper understandings that had not previously been uncovered through purely dialogic methods. The process of reviewing each cartoon with the children meant there was the additional benefit of confirming their consent to the vignette being reported in the research project.
The implications of this approach are far-reaching, as any project that advocates children’s participation in research should endeavour to use methods that enable children to access what the researcher is recording. Sketching simple cartoons maintains children’s anonymity and does not require specialist equipment or skills, but has the potential to unlock hidden concepts and understandings, thereby significantly enriching traditional research approaches.