A new guideline for undertaking research and data analytics with children, young people and other vulnerable individuals has been issued as part of GRBN’s standards partnership with ESOMAR. 

The new guidance sets out the relevant legal, Code and best practice requirements, and is an essential reference document for any practitioners undertaking research with children and/or vulnerable participants.

The focus of the guidance is on respecting the privacy, protecting the welfare and taking steps to reduce potential for harm across a range of methodological approaches when researching children, young people and vulnerable adults.

So who do we mean by children?

The definition of children varies across the globe and whilst the ESOMAR/GRBN guideline defines a child as being someone under the age of 12 and a young person as someone aged between 13 years and 17 years, it is essential that practitioners became familiar with national and international definitions as in many countries the definition of a child is someone older.  The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child for example defines children as those under 18 years of age unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.  Within research the age varies e.g. the US Insight Association’s definition of children and young people is the same as the ESOMAR/GRBN definition whilst in Australia a child is defined as under 14 years.

Within many countries there are also legal requirements for pre-employment screening of adults and volunteers who come into contact with children, and these can apply to researchers who undertake research with children e.g. in Australia pre-employment screening is mandatory, and applies to researchers moderating groups or conducting depth interviews as well as interviewers working on quantitative projects (see the AMSRS Guideline on Interviewing Children and Young People).

And what is a vulnerable participant?

Within the ESOMAR/GRBN guidance vulnerable adults are defined as those with “…limited capacity to make voluntary and informed decisions…”.  The legal and ethical requirements also vary considerably between counties and practitioners are advised to take a broad approach when considering whether vulnerable participants may be part of their research.

Vulnerability is a dynamic, complex state which can be short-term or long-term that can fluctuate over time, and can affect anyone at any time for many difference reasons; and as such practitioners need to be aware and trained to ensure all necessary steps are taken to avoid any possible harm.

In the UK, the MRS has produced separate guidance on vulnerability which explores vulnerability and the differences between permanent, short-term and fluctuating vulnerabilities providing guidance on methodological considerations and includes questions to help practitioners recognise vulnerability plus guidance on common mistakes.

Anything else on this horizon?

Concerns about children and vulnerable adults remains an evolving and changing landscape across research, analytics and marketing primarily due to concerns about social media and digital data.  There are a number of initiatives which are taking place at both a national and international levels for which members of GRBN are involved including:

  • A proposed ISO standard on advertising and marketing to children. GRBN member associations including MRS are involved in consultations on this document and are in touch with ISO regarding developments
  • A number of countries are looking at age appropriate design, the most recent being the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (the UK data protection regulator) recently issued draft consultation document, Age Appropriate Design: A Code of Practice for Online Services, which contains 16 standards of age-appropriate design for information society services likely to be accessed by children. EFAMRO’s EU Policy Manager, Camilla Ravazzolo, has been involved in the sector’s response to this document.

Resources via GRBN

The NEW ESOMAR/GRBN Guidelines on Research and Data Analytics with Children, Young People and Other /vulnerable Individuals (link)

The NEW ESOMAR/GRBN Research with Children one page reference document (link)

References: National Association Guidance

AMSRS Guidelines on Interviewing Children and Young People

MRS Guidelines for Research with Children and Young People

MRS Best Practice Guide on Research Participant Vulnerability

Insights Association Code of Ethics

ICO Age Appropriate Design: A Code of Practice for Online Services

UN Convention on the Rights of a Child