Young people participating meaningfully in drug research

I’ve been attending the 6th International Conference on Drugs and Young People – it’s been fantastic. I’ve been especially pleased with the focus on meaningful participation of young people in research, a topic that I’ve been passionate about for a while now. It’s about human rights, and really, it does make sense that young people would be the experts on what they want!

Yesterday I discovered the existence of a new research centre in Brisbane called the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse. Angela White and her colleagues presented their experiences on engaging young people in research: what worked and what didn’t, and how it actually fed into the development of their materials, including harm reduction leaflets and an alcohol monitoring iPhone app.

It is impressive to me that they actually have meaningful engagement as a goal in their organisational mandate, something that is probably a first for an AOD research organisation, at least in Australia if not further afield.

Other tidbits:

  • young people want organisations to act professionally – don’t use ‘young people slang’ to try and look ‘cool’
  • young people are suspicious of organisations wanting to preach to them about drugs – avoid this!
  • young people enjoyed being consulted if done so respectfully
  • they need to see the recommendations are acted upon!
  • one size does not fit all – eg. university students have different opinions and needs to youth service users

I asked Caroline Salom whether any young people were concerned about the term ‘substance abuse’ being in the title of the organisation. My experience moderating Bluelight is that the drug users there tend to be less trusting of an organisation that has embedded in its name an assumption about drug use being inherrent wrong. Caroline was not sure whether this had been an issue for the young people they spoke to. Perhaps when you meet in person (unlike on Bluelight, an online forum) these things are less of an issue when establishing trust.

6 thoughts on “Young people participating meaningfully in drug research”

  1. Fantastic article Monica. CYSAR does amazing work with youth engagement in their research.

    It is great to see groups like this sharing their experiences in how to create meaningful engagement and participation.

    I think that the salient point of ‘young people need to see the recommendations are acted upon’ is key to ensuring organizations gain the necessary respect.

    My messages from the conference align well with this. Youth consultation is finally something many organizations are doing (sometimes well,sometimes not) but we need to also INVOLVE YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE DECISIONMAKING PROCESS to ensure there is followthrough. It’s empowering for the organization and gives research immediate legitimacy if one of the authors is an interests young person.

    It also allows you to upskill young people Whig isn’t a bad goal either – training the future researchers!

    Interesting comments about naming of services too! This whole marketing field isn’t considered too muh at the moment but I expect it’s popularity to increase soon and we’ll hopefully get some research being produced soon.

    Keep up the good work


  2. Yes I agree with you all the way. In my online research, I posted threads in numerous forums letting people know about the research but also starting conversations about what they might think about the topic and drugs in general. While interesting and more than what most people do, it was not real engagement and the participants were involved in the decision making parts of the project. So I’m really keen to do this in my next projects, post-thesis, and 6dyp has given me some great info/contacts about how to go about it 🙂

    Nice to meet you and good luck with everything!

  3. oops, “participants were NOT involved in the decision making”, was what I meant to say 😉

  4. It is very interesting why Centre for Youth Substance Abuse decided to build their own iPhone app. There are plenty of drinking related apps- some even from health institutions like NHS Drink Tracker from National Helath Services of UK, see
    and many others on the AppStore – for example DrinkControl, that does exactly what OnTrack is planned for – tracking drinks, expenses, drinking status (incl. bingeing). See there:

  5. Hi jk. I’m not entirely sure why they decided to create their own app. What they did was to get young people to play with their created app alongside two other apps on the market – and I was more interested in that process of participation, facilitation, feedback, that I wasn’t really questioning their rationale for making the app in the first place.

    One of the functions on 1 app that the young people liked was the ability to easily organise transport home using geolocation. Another was the ability to ‘create’ your own drink using your own picture and alcohol content info. Not sure if these functions are part of the NHS or other ‘control’ apps.

    Anyway, it would be interesting to find out more from CYSAR!

  6. Agree – would be interested to see more of CYSAR findings and approaches, especially about behavioral changes that use of technologies/apps can impact.

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