36616 Participatory Research to Inform Adolescent Girls' Health Offerings

R. Ann Abercrombie, MLS, Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC

Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis:  The HHS Office on Women’s Health (OWH) provides accurate, reliable information and resources, including a website (www.girlshealth.gov), social media and digital properties, and campaigns, that help girls lead healthy lives. To ensure continued value, we set out to (1) examine if the content and how it is presented is useful, relevant, and appealing, (2) inform strategies for updating them accordingly, and (3) update the brand personality and overall “look and feel.” Greene’s Theory of Active Involvement suggests that heavily engaging an audience in the development of content elicits more arousal and involvement in the end result (Greene, 2013). Our goal, by actively engaging a research panel of girls, is to create content that resonates and is interesting and exciting for them. Objectives included:

  • Determine the appropriate age group to target.
  • Determine what is personally relevant, interesting, and exciting for girls.
  • Explore the audience’s health information needs and preferences.
  • Learn how girls are getting their health information and how they want to receive it.
  • Determine how to prioritize content.
  • Identify gaps OWH can fill.

Methods:  We recruited a panel of nine girls ages 14–15. This age group was determined to be the most important segment for www.girlshealth.gov as girls 16 and older tend to use OWH’s health resources for women, and younger girls are aspirational. The girls participated in a series of activities:

  1. Online questionnaire—enabling us to address potentially sensitive topics discreetly—about their health information needs and preferences.
  2. In-person discussion group to explore reactions to various resources and channels available to them and preferences in content, formats, and creative design.
  3. In-person discussion group that included a health information-seeking activity to determine what resources they use and find most helpful in answering questions about topics relevant to them, captured through eye tracking and keystroke-capture technologies.
  4.  In-person discussion group that included an interactive brainstorm and creative exercise. Girls were presented with "WebLobs" (web-like objects) and mood boards (color schemes, graphic treatments, etc.). During this phase, girls served as co-creators and help the team determine possible brand elements, web treatment, and an overall look and feel.

Results:  We are currently completing the research, but we anticipate our findings (available before August 2015) will guide content prioritization and development for OWH offerings and help us refine the brand personality of www.girlshealth.govand other channels.

Conclusions:  OWH recognized the need to update its girls’ health offerings to ensure continued value for the target audience. Engaging girls in the formative research process, over a series of iterative activities, ensures an end product that is more relevant and appealing to the target audience. Additionally, the research participants in effect become our expert panel of co-creators, concept testers, and OWH girls’ health mavens.

Implications for research and/or practice:  Community-based participatory research typically does not include adolescents, but this approach can enhance the resulting health information and resources for interventions being developed. Further, special considerations for conducting research with youth include ethics, privacy, consent, and addressing their unique and varied developmental stages and capabilities.