How might we work more ethically with children and young people? The ‘Case of Ethics’

The thorny issue of ‘informed consent’ can present challenges to those of us researching with children and young people. This holds particularly true in educational or institutional settings where young people may have limited experience when it comes to opting out of the activities they are tasked with (Renold et al. 2008). Engaging with the ethical reflexivity of researchers committed to working creatively with children and young people (see Renold 2016; Mannay 2015) and adapting some of their ideas I developed the ‘Case of Ethics’ as a way to materialise consent in my research with young people in special school settings.

The case, once belonging to a travelling salesperson, is comprised of 12 small compartments and each one holds a carefully selected ethical object. The intrigue generated by the large, battered suitcase gave way to explorations of the compartments’ contents opening up a space for discussing what each might mean.

An electronic voice changer, for example, started conversations about what happens to audio recordings, what transcription is, in what way identities can be protected and why that might be important. Similarly, a camera sparked conversations about why I was taking photographs, what I hoped to capture in them, what I would not share and why. Using masks helped us to explore what anonymity means and why researchers might feel this is important. Using the Cardiff University logo, I was able to talk about what a university is, what researchers do, why they investigate things and what a research project is. All of the objects were used to have a discussion about what anonymity, consent and confidentiality mean, if the young people could take back things they had shared and how only a concern for welfare would break confidentiality’s bind.

I also included one red and one green, laminated sheet of A4 paper adapted from the Agenda Wales resource ‘Stop, Start Plates’ activity. Young people could touch, hold up or write on the green sheet if the pace of conversation was too fast and they felt they would like to linger a little longer on a topic or to contribute more. The red sheet could be used to immediately change the topic of conversation without needing explanation.

While I don’t have the space to talk about all of the objects here, I have included a range of images of them and would welcome any questions and comments if you want to get in touch.

Victoria Edwards, Cardiff University


Mannay, D. 2015 Visual, narrative and creative research methods: Application, reflection and ethics. London: Routledge

Renold E., Holland. S., Ross, NJ. And Hillman, A. 2008. ‘Becoming Particpant: problematizing ‘informed consent’ in participatory research with young people in care. Qualitative Social Work 7 (4): 427-447

Renold, E. 2016 A Young People’s Guide to Making Positive Relationships Matter, Cardiff University, Children’s commissioner for Wales, NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Welsh Government and Welsh Women’s Aid.

For lots of ways to work creatively and ethically with young people, I highly recommend the work of Professor Emma Renold, particularly the Agenda Wales resource which inspired the case.