Extra motivational bonus and… Let them have fun! Key elements for qualitative research with adolescents

1 Dec
Santi Gómez

There is no doubt that a qualitative methodology considerably enriches the development and assessment of public health interventions. It is often the ingredient which gives a dish that very special flavour or sometimes is even its main ingredient which, if of quality, makes the dish a real winner.

When both quantitative and qualitative methodologies are applied respectively to the same project, the necessary nutrients are provided to make the project work and can even produce compound molecules of a high nutritional value if applied in combination. The flavours of qualitative methodology acquire specially relevance in the dish when an innovative intervention  is being cooked up using new channels of communication to reach the target population. We are talking of the PEGASO Fit for future.

The chefs at the the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS) and those at the Catalan Agency of Public Health (ASPCAT), together with other European chefs, have the PEGASO platform brewing on the stove. Centred around the smartphone, it aims to be a new creative recipe for the promotion of healthy lifestyles among adolescents. Eating habits, physical activity and hours of sleep are the real protagonists of the signature dish which has begun to be served in different secondary education schools in Catalonia, Scotland, England and Italy in the way of different health apps, games and movement sensors.

The PEGASO project is using qualitative methodology in all phases to ensure that the “food” gets to the table successfully and that it be a well-received recipe which spreads out cheerfully and quickly to all kitchens. Thus, the focus groups held with adults and adolescents before the start of pre-pilot phase allowed us to draw up a clear shopping list to get the necessary ingredients before we donned our aprons. Subsequently, and during the 3 stages of the pre-pilot phase, adolescents in several focus groups carved up the different prototypes of the platform’s components after having appraised their quality to decide whether they should be included in the recipe or not.

But what are the key elements for qualitative research with adolescents? A focus group with adolescents is an intense activity which is worth doing. In fact, in the pre-pilot phase of the PEGASO project, we had the opportunity to lead teams in different schools; Nou Patufet school in Barcelona, Verge de la Salut de Sant Feliu de Llobregat and IES Ramón de la Torre in Torredembarra. These teams were made up of wonderful players that converted each match into a real show. To be able to see thrilling sporting events, we used the extra motivational bonus before each match. This is the first key element for qualitative research with adolescents.

The setting up of a group is essential for its later development and just like a pep talk in the locker room, the tactics of the game were explained in a simple way and the importance of each individual’s contribution to working as a team was highlighted. Additionally, and also prior to setting up groups, the importance given by the PEGASO project that participants choose their best skills while also enjoying the match was highlighted. In this way, the players gave their best at all times leaving the supporters dumbstruck from minute 1.

When dealing with highly motivated groups, the coach has no need to scream and shout from the sideline but rather just guide the team with a simple gesture so that it can progressively achieve the pre-established objectives. In this way, spectacular goals are scored which surprise everyone, including the coach and technical staff. This is pretty much what happened to the PEGASO team where good communication and the initial extra motivational bonus helped great sporting events of two or more hours to take place.

In the focus groups of the PEGASO project, the dribbling and passing between participants has been constant and at an individual level, enjoyment was apparent. This is the second key element in qualitative research with adolescents: that they enjoy themselves. If this is achieved, a group of adolescents can get to wherever they want with endless energy. In this way, attributes which collective imagination often assigns to the adolescent population such as passiveness or a lack of interest have been totally ousted and annulled by freshness, creativity and the urge to participate. Undoubtedly, as Jaume Funes would say, the adolescents who have participated in the PEGASO project have been unbearably charming; and I would add, extremely funny and insatiable players.

And after a hard workout, to bed ….! All the information provided by adolescent genius must be given the chance to rest. Rest after an activity is also a nutritious element. A calm demeanour after the adequate hours of sleep enables one to carry out a qualitative in-depth analysis. It is under these conditions that an outcomes report can be written which gives value to the development of the intervention that, as we have already commented, aims to  promote a healthy diet, physical activity and rest. The PEGASO project aspires to be a useful tool in promoting these healthy habits among adolescents. Have a good day, a good match and good night!

Post written by Santi Gómez, AQuAS-APSCAT.

This text are part of a series of posts about qualitative research started at the Ibero-American Congress of Qualitative Health Research which was held in Barcelona several months ago. The other posts in the series are: Utilities and challenges of applying qualitative methodology in community health projects written by Dolors Rodríguez-Arjona and Broadening perspectives in health service assessment written by Vicky Serra-Sutton.

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