Abstract: The SPIN Project's Youth Research Advisory Board: Engaging Youth Perspectives to Ensure Research Relevance and Build Capacity (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

The SPIN Project's Youth Research Advisory Board: Engaging Youth Perspectives to Ensure Research Relevance and Build Capacity

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Treasury, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jaime Booth, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Dashawna J. Fussell-Ware, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Daniel Sintim, BA, Graduate Student Assistant, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Donnell H. Pearl, Community Researcher, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Cortney VanHook, MS, MPH, Graduate Student Assistant, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Youth of color in distressed communities are frequently excluded from creation and execution of the very research conducted to understand their own lived experiences. Yet these youth’s perspectives are essential for researchers studying young people’s lives in an increasingly diverse, social media oriented, and politically disruptive world. Moreover, participating in research projects gives youth from underserved communities the skills necessary to question dominant narratives and to generate new knowledge about issues that their communities are facing. As such the NIH-funded Space and People in Neighborhoods project (SPIN) formed its Youth Research Advisory Board in order to 1) increase the contextual relevance of the larger project, and 2) to empower youth in conducting research on their own community.  This paper will discuss the advisory board’s development, activities to date, and the youths’ individual experiences of being on the board. 

Methods:  Starting in May 2018, 11 youth ages 12-16 from Westinghouse 6-12 Academy, a public secondary school in Homewood, were invited to participate on the YRAB. Board meetings occur once a week at Pitt’s Homewood Community Engagement Center, and are facilitated by PACS researchers. At board meetings, members 1) learn about essential elements of research, such as ethics, measurement, sampling, and participant recruitment; 2) advise the larger Pitt research team on their ongoing community-based research efforts; and 3) receive leadership training in governing board participation. Meetings were audio recorded, and the members interviewed each other about their experiences of being on the board. All audio recordings were transcribed and analyzed.  Research skill acquisition is measured through project-based demonstrations.

Results: To date board members have learned the generation of research questions, how to name and brand studies, the fundamentals of research ethics, the importance of measurement in research, core aspects of geo-spatial based study, aspects of psychometric validation and software modifications, and examining and interpreted data from a pilot study. Board members also collaborate in creating presentations about their work. Interviews suggest that board members feel as if they are benefiting from their experience, and that they believe they are helping their community through their work. Moreover, for the larger SPIN study, the board’s feedback has led to the addition of measures that are more contextually relevant, to more appealing project naming and messaging, more appropriate approaches to survey administration, important modifications to the incentive structure, and enhancements to our recruitment strategy. 

Conclusions: Alongside research components of the Justice Scholars, the activities of the YRAB demonstrate the potential impact of engaging youth in research projects designed to understand their own lives and community contexts. These experiences also demonstrate how research knowledge and skills can enhance youth’s sense of power. The process of creating and maintaining the board has been a reciprocal learning experience for both the youth and the PACS researchers alike, as university faculty learn to craft their projects in ways that are more ecologically valid and culturally relevant.