Fiona Samuels
Nicola Jones
Carol Watson
with Sophie Brodbeck
Publication Date
Publication Date: 
September 1, 2015

"By listening to what girls, their families and community leaders say, researchers can explore how people perceive the norms that pattern lives, and how they are - or are not - changing. These insights can be invaluable in challenging received wisdom about how gender norms affect adolescent girls in particular contexts."

This research and practice note adds to existing guidance available on the principles and ethics of conducting qualitative research with children and young people by drawing out some key pointers to bear in mind when undertaking qualitative research on gender norms with adolescent girls. It describes a step-by-step process for using 4 innovative or visual tools based on the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)'s experience of researching the impact of gender norms on adolescent girls in Ethiopia, Nepal, Uganda, and Viet Nam. It reflects on their experience of framing questions around social and gender norms, and links to the tools used throughout. The research note is part of the Department for International Development (DFID)-funded Knowledge to Action Resource Series 2015, which emerged from the 4-year programme Transforming the Lives of Adolescent Girls.

Concentrating primarily on tools used in the second year of the programme, which focused on gender norms related to child marriage and education, the note begins by outlining some key pointers for undertaking research with adolescent girls living in poverty. The process of developing a conceptual framework involves, in brief:

  • Do a thorough literature review.
  • Use each research tool as a guide, not a blueprint.
  • Keep research instruments short and focused and try to avoid overlapping or repetitive questions.
  • Include girls from different backgrounds and in different situations.
  • Include girls' parents, grandparents, siblings, and other family and community members.
  • Think through which issues are priorities for you to explore.
  • Ask the obvious.
  • Don't assume you know the answers to a given question.
  • Use informal as well as formal sources of information.
  • Manage expectations (explain clearly at the outset what the research team will (and will not) be doing).
  • Manage "gatekeepers" - e.g., by carefully explaining the purpose and methodology of your fieldwork.
  • Think through research ethics and how to protect your respondents.
  • Engage stakeholders in the analysis process.

The next section provides guidance for how to frame questions about gender norms and adolescence. It includes a link to click on to hear Professor Grace Kyomuhendo Bantebya discussing the framing of questions about gender norms in Uganda. She suggests that it is helpful to ask about the kinds of things that people believe, practise, and are considered normal about a certain subject – in this case, marriage. Box 5 includes a series of questions that can help you find out about local norms and practices on age at marriage. Another link features Professor Bantebya discussing the importance of understanding the social institutions and groups of people that uphold gender norms in Uganda. These include the household, and two groups of people - elders and paternal aunts - who are often overlooked but who play an important role in upholding existing gender norms or enabling change. Throughout this section, there are concrete tips such as: Be mindful of people's incentives to present themselves in a good light, and be mindful of how people perceive adolescence and adolescent girls and boys. It is useful to triangulate among different respondents to get a full view of norms and how they operate.

Table 1 (beginning on page 10) outlines some of the tools developed by the ODI research team, which were tailored for use in Ethiopia, Nepal, Uganda, and Viet Nam. The table summarises the purpose of each tool, describes which respondents were selected for interview and why, and has tips to help you get the best out of each tool. It includes some sample questions. For each tool, you can click through to the full set of questions used in the research.

An additional section explains how to implement 4 of these tools: group discussions (focusing on community mapping, body mapping, community timeline); intergenerational trios; marital networks; and outlier case studies. Specific stages are described in detail, with detailed examples.

Three steps are offered to put a research plan into action, including: (i) Build your team ("You should encourage research team members to be reflexive (that is, to consider the effect of their presence on what is being investigated.") and pilot the tool; (ii) develop a research plan and timeline, planning to use it flexibly; and (iii) do the field research.

The concluding pages of the note feature an annotated bibliography on ODI research outputs and literature providing guidance on how to involve children and adolescents in research, as well as a list of related resources.

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ODI website, July 1 2016. Image credit: © Dao Hong Le, 2013