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Children’s right to participate in data collection during emergencies has been widely recognized by humanitarian actors. However, participation in such activities can expose children to risk. Tensions have been noted between the right to participate and other principles, such as the imperative to ‘do no harm.’ With little evidence to inform guidance on addressing this tension, our study sought to identify expert consensus on whether and how children participate in emergency-related data collection activities.
We employed a three-round Delphi technique with a purposive sample of 52 child protection specialists. Respondents answered two open-ended questions in round one. A thematic analysis of responses generated a set of unique statements addressing the study questions. In the second round, respondents rated each statement on a five-point scale. In the final round, respondents reviewed the group’s average ratings for each statement with the option to revise their own ratings. A statement was said to have reached clear consensus when at least 90% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.
A total of 124 statements and 14 themes emerged from the thematic analysis, with 46.0% of statements reaching clear consensus in the third round. Respondents strongly supported children’s right to participate in data collection in humanitarian settings, while also recognizing that protecting children from harm may “over-ride” the participation principle in some contexts. Respondents identified capacity and contextual considerations as important factors influencing participation decisions, though they sometimes disagreed about how these factors should determine participation. Respondents also considered the role of individual child factors and the presence of caregivers in selecting child participants, and proposed best practice approaches for securing children’s safe and meaningful participation.
With almost half of statements reaching clear consensus, these findings reflect broad agreement within the sector about engaging children in data collection in emergencies. At the same time, points of ongoing debate around how to factor different risks into child participation decisions may indicate discordant practice. Further reflection is needed around how factors such as the phase of emergency, the existence of basic services, and cultural beliefs should influence whether and how children participate.