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By Ellie Green and Harriet Wells 5 Principles for Kid-Centric Moderation

TPL Pineapple Kit
In the last two years we’ve listened to the voices of over 3500 kids in over 22 markets, and across 6 continents. That’s a lot of hours face to face with kids. Whilst the research experience is everyday stuff for us, it isn’t for the kids we meet, with most of them attending for the first time. It can be nerve wracking and it can push them out their comfort zone. But we don’t see our sessions as ‘research;’ we consider them experiences. Yes, we are there to make sure we hit our clients’ objectives, but ensuring that the kids have fun, learn something and get to grow in confidence that little bit more are equally as important to us.
When we started out in 2010, kid-centric moderation was our mission and we were obsessed – always innovating new ways to do it and push the boundaries. Over the years, as we and the industry as a whole have leaned more into the strategy, innovation and consulting space, our passion and obsession for this hasn’t been as loud. But it’s never gone away – and we want to take this little corner of the internet and your time to remind us and you of our key principles to maximising kids’ engagement and creative output.

1. HELLO, my name is…

Introductions do not ‘eat into your discussion guide time’, they make or break your session.
  • If you’re a client reading this, please don’t put pressure on your moderator to skip intros with kids. Adults can get by better with less warming up, kids can’t
  • As group dynamic theory teaches us, the first 10-15 minutes of a session are vital to allow individual and social cohesion to form. But even the idea of introducing oneself is very alien and grown up to a kid; they might have never done it before, so creative ways to let it out matter
  • Protecting a decent amount of time at the beginning of a session helps form a solid foundation for everything that comes after.
  • We like to have short video calls with kids before we meet them too. The impact this has when you arrive is transformational, they feel they know you and trust is much easier to build
  • We also use their personal objects to facilitate introductions; we call these identi-kits. It’s a physical representation of who they are and what they’re about, and means they don’t have to find 1000 words to tell their story. Paying attention to what they’ve selected and how they talk about each object says so much

2. We are not kids’ TV presenters

Energy is important, but we’re there to talk and create – and calm and gentle can be more effective than lively and hyperactive!
  • Children will mirror how the moderator behaves. If you’re full of beans, bouncing off the walls, they will be too. Great for kids’ parties, less so when you’re after creativity and productivity
  • If you’re softly spoken, calm and respectful, the more likely they will be too
  • That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun – but you can be clever with the way you deliver and instil it and inject it via targeted action and activities, not as a backdrop to the whole session

3. Mood-shifter management

There’s a certain politeness that comes with adults. They will generally stay on board to the end of your group…but if kids get bored, tired, grumpy or giggly, expect to know about it and have to do something with it in about 2.5 seconds!
  • Embracing the group mood is important, which means tuning into different emotional states: physicality, creativity, introspection, silence, collaboration – to surface different responses
  • We believe it’s easier with adults to lead and manipulate them into the states you want them to be in. With kids, it’s more of a dual process; you have to feed off them as much as you can lead them where you want them to go
  • We’ve developed TPL Brain Gym exercise cards to give kids a safe space and time to move, fiddle and be playful when the need presents itself
  • This is also why spending hours of back and forth on lengthy discussion guides is wasted energy – and can actually be detrimental to a session when things get so precise and overly detailed. Have a plan, have clear objectives: but expect the journey to reaching them to be a little different in every session

4. Real world, real things

Abstract thinking is not a new or immature skill for kids. They can imagine brilliantly, but within their own realm – and this doesn’t usually include visualising your concept on a supermarket shelf. Sorry.
  • In order for kids to grapple with complex and abstract ideas, we need to ground them in tangible, sensorial stimulus. We must make it as easy as possible for them to see and believe what we’re showing them or talking to them about
  • At TPL, we’ve curated our very own Pineapple Kits – sets of creative resources gathered to yield rich, emotive responses from kids of all ages
  • We find that showing facilitates telling, and here are some of our favourite Pineapple Kit resources to keep things inspiring:
    • Lego Bricks – for building feelings, ideas, reactions
    • Moulding Clay – for mindful thinking, communicating and optimising
    • Character Archetype Figures / Brand Logo cards – to compare and contract new ideas to real things they know how they feel about
    • Prototypes – really make a difference if you’re showing ideas!

5. Handing over the power

We are not running a lesson or at school. A teacher led session versus a TPL experience is not the same thing. We must retain some order, but a bit of chaos is needed to find those gems. We want to work with raw and real data, not polished answers to a list of questions.
  • We believe in the power of kids’ minds and we trust the process of diving into them
  • Handing them the reins and accepting that possibly we’re only looking out for 20% brilliance in the data we’re collecting is a sensible place to be
  • We demonstrate our trust and confidence with little touches:
    • Giving them roles and responsibilities
    • Giving them their own slick and personal creative materials to use, not a box of old pens that don’t work
    • Allowing them space for their own personal thoughts and ideas to be collected privately as well as publicly
    • Asking them for feedback on us and the session


Need any help talking kid? Want to hear more of our principles and ideas or dive further into the role of analysis? We can train you and your teams. Drop Ellie a line at