About this time last year I was helping to plan a global study on teens and technology use, called Global Village. This idea was cooked up by my colleagues Ilka Kuhagen (Germany) and Corette Haf (South Africa) as a way to demonstrate the power of using bulletin board research to gather global insights.
We sponsored this research as a group, and conducted the research with 12 groups. This was an impressive team of researchers, it was my honor to work with them.
During the planning process, we had many logistical issues to work through. For example, our platform sponsor, Focus Forums, had to add Mandarin character capabilities to the bulletin board.
A decision was reached to focus our efforts on teens aged 14 - 16 years old. A challenging target in some ways, as ethical guidelines require parental permission to conduct research with this age group, which added to the logistics of the project. But we saw that this group is entering young adulthood with access to a level of technology that they have enjoyed since childhood. We wanted to see where things were heading with this group. So we found teens that had a cell-phone and used the internet relatively heavily.
The bulletin board was a fantastic tool for the project, and the teens loved the format. Age and gender barriers that would have been a major burden in a face-to-face setting evaporated, and we had high engagement and considerable openness and honesty.
In addition to this, the research team was also easily able to watch the research unfold, and share our own discussion about questioning strategies over the project schedule. This meant we could change and shift the later stages of the project based on earlier stages.
It was fascinating to see the style differences among the research team. As findings started to emerge, we were all impressed by how similar, in many ways, the attitudes of the teens were in each country. In picture sort exercises, for example, the same concepts -- and even the same images -- came up over and over again. We weren't really expecting this, it was a fascinating finding.
One thing is for certain -- these teens are joined at the hip to their cell-phones, and this is their life-line. If their house was burning down, it's one of the things they'd grab. The research team found text messaging a much more effective way to send out reminders to participate. (With an adult group, we would use e-mail). Almost none of the teens in the whole study had heard of Second Life. A few had been on Habbo Hotel, but these sites no longer held -- they are way too busy forming real-world relationships to care too much about the virtual world. Yet.
Overall, a fascinating group of teens. The Canadian group were very much "the New Phoenicians" -- ethnically diverse, open to new ideas, enterprising and optimistic. I wanted to give them all a virtual hug, they made me feel proud to be Canadian. I have no doubt the other researchers felt the same about their own youth.
I'll be presenting on this project with my colleague Betsy Leichliter from New York at the ARF conference next week, and also in Winnipeg at the MRIA conference in May. Other team members are presenting at various conferences around the world, including the upcoming AQR/QRCA conference in Barcelona. The slide at the top came from a presentation done by Diva Oliveira in Brazil.
You can also read the write-up that Ilka and Corette did for the QRCA publication VIEWS, which is available free online. How Global is Your Village? (the link spawns a PDF. Article is on pages 18 - 27)