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FAQ 12: How can I recruit particular subgroups of children?

What's the issue?

Sometimes, we wish to study a specific population or particular subgroups of children, which may not be easy to recognise or reach through the usual ways of recruiting. This may be the case for quantitative, and even more for qualitative, research, which is often used when there is little known about the phenomena under study.

Common practice

  • Internet discussion forums or mailing lists on a vast amount of topics that are available nowadays can provide a useful way of recruiting particular subgroups of older children and teenagers. We can go to a specific high school forum to recruit teenagers for a study about their use of media in everyday life.
     
  • If we wish various subgroups (e.g. age subgroups or gender subgroups of children) in the sample, we can use stratified random sampling, which combines stratified sampling with random sampling. For example, if we wanted to a stratified random sample of boys and girls final year of primary school, we would first separate the entire population of the last year of primary school pupils into two groups, one all boys and other all girls. To complete our sampling we would then independently select a random sample from each stratum (a random sample of boys and another one of girls).

Questions to consider

Particular subgroups that deserve special attention in research on the use of information and communication technologies, are socially vulnerable and under-privileged children. Recruiting young children from this background requires more efforts to gain the confidence of the parents who often are not acquainted with or suspicious of the formal and asymmetrical relationship between the (academic) researcher and themselves. Doing research with teenagers with a socially less privileged background, requires researchers to be reflective about their own social position, the type of language they use and their attitude, and how this all affects the research process.

Further resources

Kalton, G. (1983). Introduction to survey sampling. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Greene, S., & Hogan, D. (2005). Researching children's experiences: methods and approaches. London: Sage.

Researchers' experiences

In the first attempt to conduct a survey on the uses of the mobile phone by young teenagers in Greece, I thought of using the Greek School Network (ideally, this would have meant that the designed questionnaire would electronically reach teenagers across the country, thus allowing me to have a representative sample in terms of geography, urban area, socio-economic status and so on, according to my needs). I soon discovered that the bureaucracy involved in dealing with the Greek Ministry of Education meant that it would take anything between three and six months in order to have an answer as to whether or not I would be allowed access to the GSN; providing I did receive a positive answer, I would still need another few months to select a limited number of school units which I would then have to visit physically; conducting research over the internet proved impossible. In order to circumvent this problem, I used informal networks: I approached my mathematician at my old frontistirio (all students in Greece are driven, sooner or later, to such institutions where they practice for their A levels at school, for a fee), now coaching a new generation of high school students. I bypassed all the bureaucratic prerequisites and other practical obstacles relating to official processes in the corridors of the frontistirio and managed to gain access to approximately 200 teenagers aged 15-18. I had 30 more questionnaires gathered through a Masters student of mine who used his connections at his old school and handed out the questionnaire to one classroom. Lesson learned: there are always ways to improvise and overcome the inflexibility of the system. (Lisa Tsaliki, Greece)

In the TIRO research project we wanted to include young people with a Moroccan or Turkish background (the biggest Muslim ethnic minorities in Belgium) in the qualitative research, but failed. We underestimated the reluctance of both the teenagers and their parents to participate in an academic study that represented for them the (Belgian) establishment in society. It also occurred to us that the youth movements and clubs we visited to recruit teenagers were predominantly 'white', so we had to look for other settings and intermediaries. Since we were not prepared to this and we ran out of time, we had to shelve this plan. (Joke Bauwens, Belgium)

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