Consulting on research projects

ScotCRN1

Preparing the Researcher

Preparation for a consultation with a client should begin with selecting a setting that is conducive to a formal meeting. The researcher should consent to the recording of the session, in writing, prior to the meeting. Researchers should be advised regarding the methods by which he/she present their study material, as all material should be presented in lay terms, should be interactive, and should not be text heavy. He/She should also be informed about preparing questions and/or exercises to obtain feedback from the YPAG. Some suggestions for the questions used in the consultation may include:

  • Be open-ended
  • Target one dimension (e.g. Describe your emotional state at that time”, rather than “Describe your emotional and physical state at that time”)
  • Be short, and in clear and simple language
  • Unambiguous
  • Ask for experiences of the participant as opposed to having them to make non-contextual judgements

The researcher should be informed of the outline of the session, including the description of ground rules and the roles of the coordinator. Discussion with the researcher regarding the option for the delivery of additional feedback from the YPAG after the conclusion of a session should be held as well. This may provide youths and those who are shy with an opportunity to effectively give their response at a later time. This can be done using e-mail or online surveys, etc. Anonymity should be promoted at this stage as well since anonymized feedback may be different from the discussion generated during a focus group session.

Coordinating the Meeting

A consultation session should begin with a welcome, introduction of the client to all YPAG members, and a round-robin of names and ages of all youths present. It is preferable that the presentation of material be relatively brief. Discussions should begin with broad, less sensitive questions, with the first question being a general question that is easy for all youths to answer. Subsequent questions can progress into specific and more relevant personal questions. Probes,  or questions that are designed to obtain further details from an initial response, should be used by the researcher and coordinator at appropriate times should clarification be required. Examples of probes include: “What makes you think that?” and “Tell us more about that.” Use of markers and large flip-charts or other illustrative materials can promote focus as well. Various discussion promoting methods may include other qualitative research methods, such as focus groups, interviews, and role-play [12]. Discussions should conclude with questions that direct subject matter away from sensitive topics. The meeting should wrap-up with a briefing of the events of the meeting and a “thank you” to all those present. Meeting durations of 1 and 1.5 hours have been suggested for members between 10 to 14 years of age and youths older than 14 years of age, respectively.

Each meeting should be evaluated by the YPAG members themselves, coordinator, and, if possible, visiting researchers. Young people can determine whether the outcomes of the session met their aims, and which factors may have helped or hindered their objectives. When assessing variables that may have aided or impeded their aims, the YPAG should consider the skills/knowledge required to be effective at meetings, how the youth want to be involved in focus group sessions, and if power issues between YPAG members and adults may have affected the meetings. The youth should be asked for suggestions for improving meetings as well. Qualitative approaches to evaluate the young persons’ participation can be carried out with self-administered surveys, and individual and/or group discussions with the coordinator.

Formal communication (interviews, focus groups, phone interviews, etc.) between the YPAG/coordinator and the researcher following the meeting can reveal valuable information on overall effectiveness of the YPAG’s impact on the trial, what kind of opinions/advices had the most impact, and perceived strengths and weaknesses of the YPAG.

A review of meeting minutes by the coordinator and/or members of the Steering Committee may provide insight regarding opportunities for improvement, such as the need for greater participation from all YPAG members; the extent to which discussions diverge from topics of interest and whether greater moderation is required; as well as effective methods for reaching consensus among participants.

References

[12] Kennedy C, Kools S, Kreuger R. Methodological considerations in children’s focus groups. Nurs Res. 2001;50(3):184-7.

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