Market Research with Children
MRA Alert! (3/00)
by Kathy Doyle, Doyle Research Associates
A considerable amount of research is being conducted among the youth population today, a population that creates a unique set of responsibilities for the researcher. According to ESOMAR’s Guidelines on Interviewing Children and Young People, “The welfare of the children and young people themselves is the overriding consideration–they must not be disturbed or harmed by the experience of being interviewed.” This is the point of view we take when approaching a market research project involving children.
While any respondent’s welfare is important, when we approach a market research project where children will be the respondents we feel an extra responsibility to make sure that the experience is a positive one for them. In addition to the obvious legal responsibilities of respondent confidentiality and obtaining permission from parents, we give equal weight to these additional ethical responsibilities:
Staff a project with a researcher experienced in working with children
Someone who is aware of, and respectful of, children’s limitations, level of cognitive development and social and emotional needs. If children participate in a market research project planned to accommodate their needs, as well as those of the client, it can be a very positive experience providing kids with a rare opportunity to be “heard” by adults, gain confidence in expressing their opinions, and to learn to think for themselves.
Recognize children’s emotional and social vulnerabilities
- Peer pressure is fierce among kids. It is our responsibility as adults to do everything in our power to make sure that a child is not teased, embarrassed, or forced to disclose information they are uncomfortable sharing during a group session.
- Make sure every child is allowed to complete an interview with his dignity intact. One very young child too shy to talk was given the opportunity to simply shake her head “yes” or “no.” She was able to complete the interview very successfully, and although the audio tape was useless, she left with a big smile on her face.
- When deciding who to “pay and send” if show rates are high, consider not only qualifications but also “fit” with the rest of the group. If one child in the waiting room is clearly an outsider– their voice hasn’t changed and everyone else’s has; they appear physically younger or older than the rest of the group; they are particularly clingy vs. the others-will they be comfortable participating in the group session?
Consider a child’s physical safety
Facilities should ask parents to remain in the waiting area until after the start of the session, and pick up their child in the facility rather than outside in the parking lot. Small children should be accompanied by an adult if they need to leave a session for a bathroom break.
Respect the child’s parents
A good parent should be concerned about where their child is being taken, what they are going to be talking about, and any product the children will be exposed to. If a parent would like to see the group room, allow it with a smile. If they would like to sit directly outside the group room (or even in the same room, if it won’t affect the research), agree with grace.
Be an advocate for children
Clients don’t always know what children are capable of. Make sure the research content, scope and topics are appropriate for the age of the child being interviewed. It is in the best interest of the research, as well as the child.
Consider the need to conduct research in schools
As a former teacher, I have very mixed feelings about whether research should ever be conducted in schools. However, as a researcher I recognize it offers clients inexpensive, easy access to their target and may even, in some circumstances, be the most logical place to conduct the research. What I would advocate, instead, is responsible research in the schools. For each and every project that is being considered ask yourself:
- Is there a reason for this project to be conducted in a school-is the topic school-related (school supplies, cafeteria meals, etc.), or does it deal with a social or community issue that affects the lives of the kids being researched?
- Can the research be structured so that kids will learn something from the research? Perhaps a question and answer period at the end of each group so the kids can ask the researcher about their job/the business world, or utilize projective techniques or other “brain stretching” exercises that kids can learn from.
- Is there a way to utilize the school setting without taking kids out of the classroom? (during study period, before/after school hours)
- Has the research been structured to minimize peer pressure such as individual interviews, best friend pairs, or mini-groups with kids from different classes? Researchers should be particularly concerned with this issue-the need to conform in front of peers can dramatically skew results.
- Has the parent’s right to know what their kids are doing in school been respected? Regardless of whether or not the school has agreed to participate in the research, we feel parents should also be notified and asked to agree via a permission slip.
- Is the school being compensated in a way that will provide a direct educational benefit to the students (new equipment, hardware, software vs. money)?
When market research with children is properly managed, it can be a rewarding experience for all involved-the researcher, the client and, most importantly, the child.
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