Platypus Jo meets the Mini Dragons and asks “Should we get children more involved in making the decisions?”

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Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in a Dragons Den style pitch with a difference at the Children’s Media Conference. The difference being that instead of 4 scary adult dragons it was 4 (at times quite scary!) 10 year old dragons.

The idea being, to conduct an experiment to find out how much we can trust children to make decisions about the content they watch (and presumably this can be widened to any product or service that they use). 2

Three ideas were presented to the children: a book, app and Theatre style TV programme. Myself, Cheryl Taylor - Controller of CBBC and George Rowe – Digital Producer at Aardman Animations sat on a panel and shared our experiences and thoughts of working with children in this way. The session was very entertaining, but also enlightening.

The conclusion we arrived at is that there are many benefits from involving children more in development work and making decisions, but, that this involvement needs to be combined with the creators (generally an adult’s) knowledge of the market and what is logistically and financially possible.

Here are some of the learnings that I would like to share with you that brought us to this conclusion:

  • Children are crazy! And brilliant!

I’m not being glib or seeing the world through rose tinted spectacles; Kids are unpredictable, can’t sit still for very long and a generally won’t do something if they don’t want to do it, which can make it tricky to work and live with children (with a 5, 6 and 16 year old this is something I’m all too aware of). However on the flip side these traits make for laughs, surprises, enlightenment and lots of inspiration when designing products and services. The mini dragon’s session resulted in positive, but sometimes unexpected, reactions that we would not have been able to second guess or create ourselves if we hadn’t asked them.

  • Seeing one child’s reactions does not represent all children’s opinions

I know it may seem obvious but children are all from different backgrounds and with different expectations and as such we should be wary of basing any decision on just having spoken to a few children. Not everyone has the budget to survey thousands of children in order to get a truly representative view, however do try to access a wide range of different types of your young target market in order to ensure you’re not missing a trick.

  • Children can be very easily biased

When speaking with children and asking their opinions on a product, programme etc. there are many factors that can sway their judgement. In the mini dragons session the styles of the pitches had a huge impact on how the children reacted and their opinions on the actual content were swayed by this.

The way questions are asked to children can also bias their views. Children often want to please and don’t want to upset people so letting them know that you want them to tell you what they think, the good and the bad, is really important. It is important that they know that no one will be upset if they don’t like a particular item.

Children will also base their opinions on what they can see, as it is more difficult for them to imagine what something could be like and therefore they are likely to judge based on the quality of the prototype that you are able to put together.

That said, this can be a good thing for development research as they feel confident enough to suggest changes and help you to develop the item if they can see an idea is not yet finished.

  • Children as partners not as participants

There is a growing movement to collaborating with children in research rather than having them as participants. The biggest difference is that children are given more control in the sessions over how tasks are run, and work in partnership with the researchers to help understand them as an audience and to develop and improve new products, content and services. Rather than the researcher asking questions and the children respond, they will give the children information on what we are trying to find out and ask their opinions on how we can find this out.

  • How can we tell if they enjoy or like it?

We frequently use an illustrator who can draw the concepts or improvements that the children are discussing so they have a visual representation which is much easier for them to critique than abstract ideas.

  • Children love being a ’mini me’

In the Mini Dragons session all of the children got into character brilliantly and through impersonating the real Dragons they were given the confidence to say what they think. Giving children a guise (e.g. Dragons Den panellists) provides them with a playful way of being able to express themselves.

  • Don’t forget about the quiet ones

Sometimes we set limits on research that the children in the sessions are talkative and confident but there is a danger with this that the views of a whole type of children are not being represented. Some children prefer to express themselves through pictures, writing or movements rather than verbally so it’s worth including a variety of tasks to give all types of children the opportunity to have their say.

We’re experts in co-creating and product testing research with children and families. Contact us for your next research project targeting the kids and family audience.

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Guest Sunday, 19 November 2017