Developing arts-Based methods of Knowledge generation and exchange with children during times of global crisis (BaCK CHAT)

Project: Research

Project Details


This longitudinal participatory research aimed to hear directly from children about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on their everyday lives, relationships and learning. The project followed earlier research, ‘Corona Chronicles’ in which children narrated their experiences of early national lockdowns and school re-openings (2020/2021). Researching co-productively with the original sample and an additional cohort of children from minority ethnic backgrounds ensured the inclusion of a diverse sample of children living in contexts of socio-economic and other forms of disadvantage and exclusion. Its methodological focus on hearing directly from children using methods of their choosing enabled the project to generate unique child-centred perspectives on the impact of the pandemic and the global economic and political crisis of 2021-22 on their lives and to contribute to new ways of engaging children in knowledge generation and exchange.

Key findings

Our research aimed to contribute to understandings of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and emerging global crisis on children’s lives, hearing directly from them at a time when children’s voices have been silenced and their participation actively marginalised in context of emerging scholarship suggesting children have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Yet the impacts of restrictions and post pandemic recovery were entirely unknown when we began our project. As such, our research has provided new evidence about children living in disadvantaged localities which make vivid the children’s lived personal, familial and material resources and include their feelings about the emerging context of the pandemic and post pandemic recovery. In this, our research aimed to:

1. Respond to a gap in knowledge about children’s everyday experiences and the impacts of government policies on their lives;

2. Support children living in areas of socio-economic disadvantage to chronicle the impacts of the ongoing pandemic, contributing new ways of hearing from children in accordance with their rights;

3. Consider, with children, policy-makers and policy-influencers, how children’s perspectives might be better included in narratives about the pandemic and in policies impacting children’s everyday lives, education and relationships.

Our key contributions to knowledge are summarised as follows.

Findings, which are available in a Zine, ‘Back Chat’, capture key messages from children about their everyday experiences and the impacts of government policies on their lives. Presented as a sequence of chapters, the zine (available at highlights key issues which children told us that were important for their recovery. Framed according to children’s rights (UNCRC - and in context of the different losses and gains experienced by children during the pandemic and ensuing global crisis:

- ‘Going Out’ represents children’s experiences, and the importance for them, of having the resources and opportunities to meet with other children, to contribute to clubs and organisations, to spend time outdoors and take part in activities in order to feel well. Many of the children were still not able to resume these activities due to financial hardship, being now too old (therefore missing significant transitions) or because clubs had closed due to the pandemic.

- ‘Our Relationships’ depicts the need for opportunities for children to connect with their families and friends (some of whom they had not been able to spend time with during the pandemic) as well as the need for time with pets and time to care for the wildlife that had been so important for many of them at the height of the pandemic.

- ‘Our Learning’ represents the right to education so children can develop and learn. Children were (mostly) pleased to be in school and to have opportunities to learn. However, while they were anxious to recover their learning there was a strong sense from children that this should be balanced with time to connect with others at school and in their wider communities.

- ‘Our Voices’ reflects the important role that children played in the pandemic and represents children’s views that they are knowledgeable and want to communicate their ideas to other children and adults. They also want access to reliable and accurate information so that they can make informed decisions about their lives.

- The final chapter, ‘What needs to happen’, offers children’s perspectives on the wider global crisis and the need for everyone to learn from the pandemic, to be better prepared for another global crisis and for adults to support children’s involvement in decisions about their lives and the lives of their communities. Identifying key messages about what children felt needed to happen as a result of their lives in the pandemic, the final chapter offers unique solutions from the perspectives of children for parents, teachers, policymakers and other children - a mandate in the form of “10 key messages about what needs to happen now”.
As such the zine provides an innovative resource for policymakers and researchers to better understand what supports children’s wellbeing and what they need to recover now and in the future. It offers a template for how these and future pressing social issues might be explored and addressed from the perspectives of children. Through the zine, created by children for children, adults, teachers, parents and policy makers, our research makes available a resource to connect with children, listen to their perspectives and consider their ideas about what needs to happen next.

In our co-production of methods, data, analysis and knowledge exchange with children, we responded to the call within the social sciences to develop more equitable, ethical research in the pandemic and beyond. A key contribution of the project was the development of a distinct methodological contribution to knowledge generation and exchange in order to support children’s meaningful participation. This included the development of collaborative arts-based resources to support children’s participation and ‘voice’ beyond those available at the outset of the research. Whilst there have been examples of participatory research with adults and young adults, usual research practices with children were disrupted during the pandemic, when researchers could not meet with children in person, challenging researchers to urgently adapt research methods. Our methods included the development of bespoke digital and arts-based activities (such as animation, video, online booklet, on and off-line workshops) to facilitate children to participate in ways of their choosing. These creative resources, listed in ‘publications’ and ‘electronic resources’ are freely available at .

The potential of digitally mediated research practice to support children’s creative participation is reflected in the richness and variety of children’s reflections and creative outputs. Children responded to the ’make your own zine’ booklet and the short digital video ‘a zine about making your own zine’, as well as the online and in person workshops, creating a breadth and depth of artwork about going out, relationships, learning, voice and their rights that arose and were shaped by the pandemic. The wealth of creative and textual data generated across the research in which the children adapted and went beyond the suggested questions attests to the diversity and complexity of children’s lived experiences of the pandemic and post pandemic recovery.

Our research suggests that generating resources with children and prioritising digital and remote methods of co-production and knowledge exchange with children can help to support the development of more equitable, ethical research practice, enabling researchers to ‘know well’ and ‘know responsibly’ for example by acknowledging children’s contributions while honouring ethical obligations to maintain children’s anonymity. For example, working with children’s hand-drawn and digitally generated self-portraits enables children to decide how they want to be represented and allows us to acknowledge their contributions without directly identifying them. In this way, Back Chat highlights the importance of a feminist ethics of care and making visible the relational, dialogic processes of co-production with children aimed at enabling audiences to ‘see’ children’s experience in ways which avoid attributing disadvantage to particular children or identifying them.

The free-to-use online digital and printable resources and open access publications that unpack these processes are made available for other researchers to reflect upon the exploratory process of coming to know and of being open to the unexpected. And, while we acknowledge that online digital technologies are not without their challenges for researchers as well as children, there is potential for using and adapting these approaches to engage with groups other than children to support them to generate rich, experiential visual and textual data about their lives.

Back Chat offered an opportunity for the research process to be inclusive and enabling (an important element of the work in contexts of the ongoing pandemic and disruption in which children were exposed to and/or experienced stress and anxiety) in ways which were meaningful and impactful while ‘taking care’ of children through an ethics of care. Our research made visible the value of:

- Enabling children to voice and represent their experiences, transforming creative data made by and with children into a zine for policy-makers that acknowledges children’s contributions while maintaining their anonymity.
 Multi-layered imagery and its potential to communicate the complexity and richness of children’s lived experiences to policy-makers.
 Seeing the multiplicity of children’s experiences through a layering of children’s creative work (narrative, photographs, drawings etc) which did not attempt to reduce children’s stories to a simplified one-size-fit-all message. Rather, visual arts offer a medium through which to convey the complexities and nuances of children’s lived experiences in ways which can exceed written description.
- The zine as a means to draw the viewer into a deeper level of engagement, while making evident the complexity of the multiple voices represented and the importance of striving to influence social change through the creation and dissemination of children’s visual and textual narratives.

The use of children’s creative artwork, portraiture and quotes in the zine is not, therefore meant to provide a singular ‘children’s perspective’ but to support a diversity of children’s voices to be heard while also serving to challenge the marginalisation of children during the pandemic and post pandemic recovery. The script in the zine that summarises each chapter was derived from the multiple stories of the different children and was generated through the course of the research alongside individual quotes in order to make visible the diverse, multidimensional perspectives of children and to ensure that the zine should not be reduced to a singular, unified voice. The children’s images and texts selected (and agreed with them), purposefully offer a multi-layered account of the complexity of children’s experiences during the pandemic and post pandemic recovery. By making available our Back Chat zine and all the resources that we developed for the project, we hope to enable audiences to engage directly with children’s voices in ways which do not reduce children’s experiences.

Responding to the critique that children have few opportunities to articulate their views and their participation has been actively marginalised through the pandemic, we have built on our previous research in the sociology of childhood, responding to children’s requests to be heard in contexts of UK policy. We continue to advocate that children have expertise about their lives and the right to have their views given due weight on all matters that affect them (UNCRC, 1989). An effective rights-based approach to policy and policymaking includes children to shape, direct and effect policy and in which children’s perspectives should be centred, utilised and amplified. In choosing to disseminate children’s experiences through a zine co-created with them, our research exemplifies and responds to ongoing debates within visual sociology, the sociology of childhood and wider social science about how to ensure that the voices and views of children are faithfully portrayed in research and its dissemination.
Short titleBack Chat
Effective start/end date1/04/2130/06/22


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