Developing new research approaches to engage rural and northern youth in a social determinants analysis of sexual health outcomes

(2006 – 2008; CIHR)

Principal Investigator: Jean Shoveller

Co-Investigator(s): Joy Johnson; Ken Prkachin

Youth regularly participate in research studies, but they are usually treated as subjects and rarely have the chance to actively participate and contribute to research in ways that they find meaningful. This often leads them to feel that research is not relevant or worthwhile participating in. Our two-stage pilot study used participatory action research methods where youth had the chance to influence and participate in all of the stages of the research project. Youth were hired as Co-Researchers and trained in qualitative research methods and youth sexual health issues. They identified and implemented recruitment strategies, determined participant eligibility, conducted interviews, recorded and analyzed the collected data, and participated in publishing the results.

In the first stage of this study, our goal was to learn more about youth’s experiences participating in academic research. We interviewed 20 youth aged 16 to 24 years old from Prince George, British Columbia, about their experiences with various kinds of research, their interactions with researchers, and their thoughts on recruitment processes. We also interviewed nine community stakeholders about their experiences reviewing proposed studies involving youth in order to better understand the research approval processes at various agencies in PG. Several findings emerged out of the youth interviews. First, youth often were not familiar with research terminology and methods. For example, youth regularly referred to all research methods as “surveys,” regardless of the methods used. Second, youth were not often asked to provide informed consent before participating, nor were they given information about the study. Third, youth rarely interacted with the researchers conducting the study outside of the interview situation. They were seldom given the opportunity to provide feedback to the researchers or to receive a copy of the study findings. From these findings, we created a “Know Your Rights with Research” handout that explains in youth-friendly language research processes and what youth need to know about being a research participant.

In stage two, we conducted a total of 22 in-depth qualitative interviews with 14 young women and 8 young men living in Prince George. Participants ranged in age from 16 to 21 years. We asked young people in Prince George about their experiences with sexual health education and whether they believe that education has helped prepared them to make healthy sexual decisions. Youth also made a number of suggestions about how parents, teachers, and health care providers can improve youth sexual health education. To learn more about these study findings, check out our project website at

Total: $99,973