The contributions of research design and process facilitation in accessing adolescent views of leadership

This article reports an investigation into young people’s understanding of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leadership in school and sporting club contexts. Four discussion methods (open ended or structured discussions of either a person or situation based scenario) were trialled by 40 adolescents (aged 14 to 16) in a structured focus group format. Particular attention was given to positioning participants as collaborators and establishing trusting and open communication in the focus groups. Both qualitative and quantitative evaluation supported the efficacy of all discussion methods. Importantly, participants attributed the efficacy of the research process less to the use of specific research designs and more to the engaging and respectful quality of the interpersonal and group processes established for the discussions in which the students acted as co-researchers. Preliminary findings on the content of young people’s leadership conceptions are also presented. Considerable consistency in young people’s ideas was evident across context (school or sporting club) and gender. From a methodological perspective, the findings have implications for the design and conduct of research seeking a valid understanding of young people’s experiences of leadership. From an educational perspective, the findings indicate the key engagement processes that should be incorporated into adolescent leadership program.