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If you want to design a new product for children, ask a 9 year old. This week and last we’ve been spending time in schools and in homes, asking children to help us with some designs. As always the 7-10 year olds we’ve been talking to have come up with innovative and unique ideas that none of us adults could have imagined. This co-creation gives immense input into such a project, and also allows children to feel empowered and part of the creative process.

Co-creation was a theme that came up repeatedly at this month’s MRS Youth Research Conference at Sadler’s Wells. It is a theme aptly described by Andrew Needham of Face as a process where ‘creativity is democratised’. There were excellent sessions in the conference that discussed the way in which young people can help to create campaigns, including Beth Corte-Real from Coca Cola, Philip McNaughton and Andrew Needham from Face and Nadia Zohhadi from Unilever.

I ran a couple of the panel sessions, and the morning discussion focused on the ways in which market research is borrowing from and working with academic research to find new and original ways to explore the world of children and young people. We decided to debate this link because we are aware that as market research becomes ever more sophisticated, we are using different and unusual research techniques, many of which have their origin in academic research – and I’m thinking particularly of ethnography and semiotics, but of course there’s much else: discourse analysis, psychosocial analysis , Action Research etc.

There has been much debate about this recently. Procter & Gamble’s Kim Dedeker proclaimed earlier in the year that ‘the research industry will be on life support by 2012 unless it turns to methods more in touch with the lifestyles of the consumers we seek to understand.’ And Joel Rubinson, the Chief Research Officer for the highly influential Advertising Research Foundation in the US said at its conference that ‘There’s a shift in how humanity is communicating which produces a continuous stream of data in people’s naturally occurring conversations. Consumers are a genie that won’t go back in its bottle.’ And he goes on to say that the industry should look to anthropologists and behavioural scientists to provide a greater understating of consumers. I’ll be writing more about this next week.

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