Child’s Play

Hot on the heels of awesome work on a couple of seriously weighty kids and families project (one very global, one getting into the nitty-gritty of need-states), Crowd DNA’s Berny McManus shares thoughts on best practice...

Nothing stands still with kids and families. For as many years as Crowd DNA have been researching them, we’re continually surprised by how they evolve in line with cultural influences, societal expectations and technological developments. We’ve become pretty adept at getting to the heart of what makes kids and parents tick, so we thought that we’d put a spotlight on a few of things learnt along the way.

Being authentic is key – don’t try to be ‘one of them’

As a former primary school teacher, I’ve seen many people (myself included) fall into this trap. Despite the fact that we’ve all been children, we lose touch with what it’s like to actually be a kid. We forget how we like to be spoken to by adults. So here’s a quick reminder: kids, especially tweens, really don’t like it when you try to be ‘one of them’. It usually results in one (or more) of the following: confusion, mockery, loss of respect, eye-rolling or – worst case scenario for a researcher – they just tune you out. Focus on being you; they will respect you so much more for that.

Help them express themselves

Kids have fantastic imaginations but they understand and communicate in different ways to us. Some decipher the world by reading, while others digest more information via images or sounds. It’s so important to give them a number of ways to engage and communicate with us. We run sessions that include drawing, role play, using apps on tablets – the list goes on. Our research with kids throughout the years has shown that characters from books, TV programmes and games play a huge part in helping the youngest ones practice relationships and experiences in a safe environment through play. Role-play is an easy way for kids to express themselves, so we’re big fans of working this into our projects. We actually recommend this as a strategy to content producers who we work with; albeit for slightly different reasons. We’ve found kids imaginative play to be a great litmus test for how successful a piece of content, TV, book or game is going to be. If they adopt them in their role play, then the characters are likely to be influential and liked. Ultimately, if you want to unlock their innermost thoughts, then you have to be prepared to use an array of strategies. The results can be thought-provoking; the kids enjoy it – and we get to spend working hours pretending to be spacemen/cowboys/the Prime Minister.

From my perspective

Unsurprisingly, it’s kids’ subconscious behaviours that can be the most revealing, especially when it comes to uncovering their real motivations or emotions. We’re strong fans of using GoPros to evidence their behaviours and actions. They allow us to completely immerse ourselves in their world and of course see the world through their eyes. (It’s also often startling seeing things from their ‘perspective'; adults are giants and the supermarket is still a wall of treats and distractions).

Give them ownership

It’s also important to give kids ownership of the session. There are a number of ways to achieve this. The younger children can be given mini-jobs to do such as, ‘You’re responsible for giving everyone a sticker’; while slightly older kids see value in being the declared ‘expert’ on a particular topic (I’ve had many walk-through demonstrations of Minecraft and I’ve learnt something every time!). My favourite is co-creation as an approach. I’ve seen some very insightful outputs from short sessions, such as the conceptualisation of a new gaming app within an hour… and this was with eight year olds. Giving kids ownership of the session makes them feel valued and results in a far more engaged and enthusiastic participants.

From co-creation to GoPro footage, working with kids is always fascinating. Give them the right tools to express their thoughts and creativity, and the insights are pure magic. We’ll be running one of our Rise breakfast events on the subject of kids research shortly – stay tuned.