SuperAwesome seeks to understand children and young people in the service of developing kidtech. Throughout our history, we have engaged with children through our platform and behind the scenes to inform the creation of products and services that keep them safe online. We consult with children across a range of projects, from UX prototypes to help with product design, to extensive qualitative and quantitative research that fuels our thought-leading understanding of kids’ perspectives across the issues that affect them most.
With young people’s (under 16s) online safety at the heart of our business, ensuring they play a part in the development of our products is critical. We need to understand how they prefer to consume media, how they interact online, and how they view their own safety and privacy. This allows us to deliver products meaningfully that not only keep them safe but are online spaces they want to engage in.
We employ a number of methods to involve children and young people on an ad hoc and continuous basis, including:
- Ongoing qualitative UX research with groups of children
- Results of direct surveys within our kid-safe social sharing app PopJam
- Regular qualitative & quantitative research in multiple countries
- Pre-pandemic, information-gathering sessions in schools to hear from children directly
- Ad hoc panel-based qualitative research
CASE STUDY: RUKKAZ
Qualitative research with a small group of children was particularly impactful for the design, development, and launch of our kid- safe gaming community Rukkaz. For this project, we commissioned research with a community of 20 children, aged 10-13, in the US to accompany the development and launch of this new app in 2020. We worked with a specialist qualitative recruiter who had a panel of parents that were open to their children taking part in research.
We then used an online qualitative research platform that allowed us to set the children’s daily tasks to help us identify the most motivating features of the new app. The tasks included looking at different designs, giving us feedback on positioning statements, ranking attributes, and sharing how they would use an app like this. The results of this research helped us to create a compelling positioning for this new service.
What’s more, our collaboration with children on Rukkaz caused us to pivot our thinking on how the application could be used by kids. Rukkaz was initially conceptualised as an app that would showcase gaming-related content from players, streamers, and influencers. The views of the kids we consulted highlighted the importance to them of connecting directly, and safely, with their icons and heroes among video game streamers.
The research helped us identify the potential of an experimental feature—‘Game with Me’— that has now become central to the Rukkaz experience. Game with Me allows children to join live co-playing sessions with their favourite gaming streamers, in a private server moderated by SuperAwesome personnel. The children we spoke with identified the uniqueness of the feature and how appealing it could be (provided it could be executed well and safely). Our direct dialogue with children allowed us to take this initial concept and develop it into a core component of Rukkaz.
The diverse set of respondents benefited from taking part in the community, having their voices heard, and knowing their opinions directly contributed to the development of the new app.
The pandemic necessitated a change in some of our usual methodologies and, as it was still important to conduct qualitative research for the depth of learnings, we used more online tools than in the past. We were concerned this would result in less depth and less impactful learnings, but we found this was not the case.
Whenever our research includes child participation, we work with trusted child and youth research partners (agencies and contractors) to coordinate the work and provide the relevant sample and reporting. Our experienced in-house insights team sets out the objectives, designs the project, and oversees delivery.
For the Rukkaz project, we had to navigate the challenge of international research during the first lockdown of 2020. We used a provider who was adept at managing online communities to create an engaging environment in which the respondents actively participated. We were able to observe and contribute questions in real time throughout the process, which meant we could react to their feedback and pivot our thinking as the project progressed.
Our sample was recruited by specialist qualitative recruiters in the US to find the right children for our project in terms of age, gender, and their relevance to the project, i.e., they were all gamers. The recruiter managed the process of obtaining consent from participants and their parents, ensuring everything adhered to the MRS Code of Conduct and the privacy requirements of GDPR-K and COPPA.
We used an online platform that allows the creation of a closed online space for a moderator and respondents to communicate. We set it up so kids could contribute their ideas via text, image uploads, and video diary entries. Over 10 days, the community was engaged by a skilled moderator to ensure our objectives were met. In part, the moderator’s role was to ensure the project is not led by our own biases, i.e., influenced by our pre- conceived ideas of what the outcome would be, which can happen when a development team works on their own projects. Finding the right moderator was essential, as talking to kids and young people requires a specialist skill set to create the right rapport and trust. Moderators who work for a specialist youth research agency and who have experience with this audience will be able to understand the nuances of child development and youth / child culture, both of which are essential to interpreting responses meaningfully.
The platform allowed participant interaction when needed, so children could collaborate and build on our ideas by answering questions both individually and as a group. Interestingly, this enabled the research team to obtain high-quality individual opinions, sometimes a key challenge of conducting qualitative research with children who can be susceptible to agreeing with dominant respondents in live interview settings.
Although we initially intended the project to be primarily based on face-to-face qualitative research, we actually found that the online methodology had numerous benefits, including obtaining single and collaborative viewpoints, the ability to interact with the target group across platforms they are familiar with, avoiding respondent or moderator bias and leading questions, reducing respondent fatigue (as each daily interaction was only 30 mins in length), and increasing involvement from us as a stakeholder team. Although there is less spontaneity in online interactions, we were delighted by the depth of learning we achieved with this methodology. We would certainly use online methodologies in the future as part of our research tool kit.
The key challenges of child participation centre on three elements: consent, data privacy, and expertise. The compliance requirements are complex and have potentially damaging consequences if not handled properly; this can be a barrier to engaging children in a meaningful way.
Overcoming the challenges is mainly a case of being aware of the regulations governing research methodologies and data privacy (either in-house or via specialist external advisers) and finding the right partner who can navigate the complexities of compliance in market research, who knows how to talk to children in their own language and can translate their responses into actionable learnings.
Through this and other projects, we have seen how engaging with young people early can materially impact the way we design compelling and safe digital products. We will continue to invest in such research, in particular as new digital spaces emerge. With the explosion of experiences in 3D gaming and the emergence of the metaverse, which are being propelled by kids as early adopters through platforms such as Minecraft and Roblox, we have an opportunity to engage with kids as we build the youth-safe experiences and brand activations of the future. In particular, we believe there are creative opportunities to engage kids in research directly within these environments, whereby we can interact with them in a digitally native way. Such virtual focus groups or community engagements could take established (but expensive) research methods from the real world and scale them up through the metaverse, enabling larger, more diverse samples and significantly lower cost.
While we are not yet in the metaverse, and there are still considerable challenges to doing this well and at scale, there is a huge opportunity to secure child participation in both physical and digital product development in a way that is more engaging than traditional research techniques.
Key challenges that remain include how to:
- Engage kids for research in 3D gaming ethically, including how to secure appropriate parental consent.
- Ensure the sample meets demographic requirements, for example panels within the gaming space.
- Ensure that any incentives to participate in research are appropriate for kids.
- Develop the infrastructure to conduct research in the 3D gaming ecosystem, for example research ‘islands’, ‘rooms’, or clickable links for gamified surveys.
That said, the opportunities to engage with kids in their native digital space are boundless, and the scope for digital ethnography, observing how kids and young people behave and interact, is particularly exciting. Engaging with them at the actual point of consumption in their natural environment, with innovative new interaction formats, will bypass some of the artificiality of current research practices. Metaverse platform research will also enable global research at a scale not seen before.
At SuperAwesome, we continue to look at innovative ways to engage with kids in these new spaces to ensure children are meaningfully participating in the development of the next generation of kidtech and the new digital experiences it enables.