Unlocking Potential: Navigating Youth Mentoring through Participatory Research on Social Capital

Reference: Radlick, R. L., & Przedpelska, S. (2024). Participatory research approaches to studying social capital in youth mentoring: Not the panacea we hoped for. Children and Youth Services Review, 156, 107205. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2023.107205

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

About the Study:

Norway has become a destination for refugees in recent decades. However, while many newcomers are resilient, separation from their support networks (family, friends, etc.) can be a challenging experience, particularly for youth. Mentorships between newcomers (mentees) and volunteer mentors are becoming more common in Europe. Because participatory strategies underscore the importance of including stakeholders in the research process, it is a promising method of promoting social justice, encouraging community engagement, and empowering people. However, there’s a lack of mentoring papers that evaluate participatory research and many practitioners have a hard time translating research findings into practice. This study describes the experiences and lessons learned in closely collaborating with two user groups (mentoring practitioners/program staff and migrant youth with refugee backgrounds (mentees)) to develop a digital mentoring and social capital intervention.

Key Findings:

  • Understanding the Project: Communication was a salient issue during the recruitment phase. Although the team explicitly highlighted consent to inform and protect participants, the mentees didn’t think it was necessary to read the entire consent form and to have an in-depth understanding of the study because they trusted the practitioners. Creating a short film helped address this issue.
  • Roles & Tasks: The CEO and the lead program coordinator (LPC) contributed the most to the study. However, although the LPC had the primary research role in the mentoring organization, other program coordinators (PCs) were involved in all of the research phases. While there were benefits to this arrangement, it also created some tensions. Some mentees actively engaged in the project in various capacities and at different stages of study.
  • Engagement & Agency: The study aimed to actively engage the staff and the mentees in creating and testing a digital mentoring platform that promoted social capital. They tried various methods of engaging youth and receiving their feedback by creating a forum, distributing social capital surveys, facilitating social capital workshops, creating a mentee blog, and running a conference near the end of the project.
  • Results of Participation:  In preparation for the conference, mentees had a chance to reflect on their participation in the project and what they took away from their experiences. Many of them highlighted the project’s positive aspects – a notable amount of them stated that this experience helped them better understand what research was and how to conduct it. Although the practitioners were involved in varying degrees, participation strengthened their relationships with the researchers, allowing them to adapt and improve their program activities.
  • Overall:  Participatory research is a promising method of meaningfully engaging youth voices, improving programming, and ensuring that research findings are implementable and relevant for stakeholders.

Implications for Mentoring:

Researchers need to consider early on how involved everyone should be, define what participation looks like, what they hope to achieve from utilizing participatory approaches, and how it can benefit everyone. A lot of time and resources need to be invested in developing trusting relationships and a nuanced understanding of the study to encourage active participation from everyone (this is especially important when accounting for language barriers and cultural differences). Experimenting with approaches to bolster trust, communication, and youth voices is essential. When issues arise, everyone needs to discuss what improvements can be made to encourage more participation and make data collection more engaging. Lastly, researchers need to acknowledge potential ethical issues about this approach since participants have dual roles as participants and co-researchers. Making consent an ongoing process can address this since it ensures participants that their participation in the program is not contingent on their engagement in the study.

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