Seen and Heard: Developing participatory action research with young people

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Health in Social Science

Abstract

Young people in the UK are subject to a mainstream societal prejudice that is still best summed up by the proverb "children should be seen and not heard". Young people's knowledge remains largely untapped or actively devalued, fostering a growing sense of alienation and disengagement among young adults, with damaging consequences for society as a whole.

This project puts the perspectives of young people at the heart of the Connected Communities Programme (CCP). By building a close collaboration between researchers at RefugeeYouth and academic researchers in the arts and humanities from three universities, we will reveal the potential of participatory action research (PAR) to cross the current frontiers between academic disciplines and everyday practice.

Organised groups of young people, university-based researchers, and youth-arts practitioners will join forces to employ a specific form of PAR known as Youth PAR towards the following aims:


1. University-based researchers, youth workers and arts practitioners learn to appreciate and support young people's research.
2. Young people's knowledge, understanding and practice of Youth PAR becomes deepened.
3. Modifying and implementing Youth PAR processes by using creative arts methodologies.
4. Providing a basis for different groups of young people to engage with both research and political processes.
5. Demonstrating how the arts, humanities and social science can contribute to, and benefit from, this new approach.

To avoid a lost generation of young people, and future occurrences of the kind of urban strife English cities experienced in the summer of 2011, policy-makers need to see the world through the perspectives of young people, as well as those filtered through an academic lens. Our project addresses an urgent need for practical approaches to improving direct dialogue with young people through promoting greater awareness of PAR by policy-makers.

As an illustration of their pioneering approach, members of RefugeeYouth - co-authors of this proposal - were prompted by the events of summer 2011 to spontaneously research and record a music video (bit.ly/VTwQ6n), providing powerful insights into the views of an informed group of young people from diverse urban backgrounds.

Working together with RefugeeYouth, we will develop critical research that contributes to some of the UK's most pressing social policy agendas, recently highlighted by organisations as diverse as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Centre for Social Justice and Demos.

Seen and Heard's use of Youth PAR begins with a structured set of workshops that will allow at least fifty young people involved in four community organisations to help shape the project - in particular the research questions. Though these questions cannot be predicted, they are likely to include themes of social justice and democracy, such as the one suggested as key by Ginwright (2008): how do we understand the meaning of hope among groups of people without resources and access to power?

At a practical level, the project will provide skills training to both the fifty young people involved and one hundred university researchers, through St Aidan's and Ustinov College. This will encompass the core ingredients of empirical PAR: the nature of research, framing a research question, common data collection techniques, simple qualitative and quantitative analysis, dissemination and presentation skills.

The project will lead to the harnessing of the skills of young people to tackle social problems and influence policies. It will also promote the development of new curricula and training materials for training courses on PAR and Youth PAR for university and community-based groups. Finally, it will make a seminal contribution to a long-term culture-shift in research towards PAR both in universities (via the Comm-uni-ty network) and among policy-makers (through the effective use of PAR).

Planned Impact

The project will demonstrate a new way of engaging young people in the both the political process and academic research. Despite the progress made since the UK signed up to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, most research used by policy-makers is still framed in ways that serve to restrain and control young people, rather than to engage them in dialogue. As the recent Carnegie Young People Initiative (bit.ly/RsJlQO) concluded, this is not just bad news for young people but for society as a whole.

Young people have less and less sense of responsibility for decisions made for them by others or any incentive to abide by such decisions. The potential for storing up problems for the future is very real as disengagement becomes a habit that will follow young people into adulthood - as evidenced for example by low voter turnout.

Reading the Riots (bit.ly/Rk7vea), the highest profile research response to the 2001 English urban riots, used traditional extractive research methods, with interviewers collecting data totalling 1.3 million words. While the research revealed a "pervasive sense of injustice" among the rioters, their extractive methodologies failed to address and appreciate key cultural factors and young people's visions for the future. No space was given to the views of young people who were not directly involved in the disturbances. Nor did the study appear to access the more considered views of the many young people involved in community organisations, such as the five groups partnering this project, who have considered the issues using participatory methods.

To re-engage the current generation of young people - and understand, even avoid, future urban strife of the kind seen in the summer of 2011 - policy-makers need to see the world through two-way dialogue with young people, rather than through questionnaires and interviews. Our project is designed to develop more imaginative approaches as a basis for developing an appreciation and commissioning of PAR by policy-makers, particularly in relation to youth issues.

Members of RefugeeYouth - co-authors of this proposal - have researched and recorded a music video (bit.ly/VTwQ6n), providing powerful insights into the views of a diverse and informed group of young people about the events of 2011. Together with RefugeeYouth, our project will contribute to some of the UK's pressing social policy agendas identified by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Centre for Social Justice and Demos.

We launch the project with a structured set of workshops that will allow at least fifty young people from four community organisations to help shape the project - and specifically the research questions for Phase 2. We anticipate that they will include themes of social justice and democracy, for example how to understand the meaning of 'hope' for people without resources and access to power?

Our project will provide training in skills not only to the young people involved but also at least one hundred university researchers, through the University of Durham's St Aidan's and Ustinov Colleges. This will encompass the core ingredients of empirical PAR and will include the nature of research, framing a research question, our new data collection techniques, dissemination and presentation skills.

For Phase 2 we will invite representatives from national and local organisations working in the areas identified in Phase 1 to join an Action Group to review the progress and outcomes of our work.

We anticipate that impacts of Phase 2 will include:

1. A harnessing of the skills of a core group of young people as a resource to tackle social problems and influence policies.

2. The development of new curricula and training materials for training courses on PAR and Youth PAR for university and community-based groups.

3. A seminal contribution to a long-term shift in research culture towards PAR both in universities (via the Comm-uni-ty network) and among policy-makers.

Publications

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Colston N (2015) Exploring the entry points for citizen science in urban sustainability initiatives in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability

 
Description Several people from Web of Connection came together this autumn to write a paper, which was presented at a symposium "What can co-produced research accomplish for social justice?", organised by the AHRC's Connected Communities Programme. See URL below.
Exploitation Route We have co-authored a book - written for the everyday reader - which draws on the results of the project: http://www.peoplesknowledge.org/projects/edited-book-peoples-knowledge-breaking-out-of-the-white-walled-labyrinth/
The process of writing, editing and publishing this book (launch Summer 2016) has allowed a range of individuals and groups to learn from our successes and failures.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://webofconnection.ageofwe.org/2013/12/05/research-symposium/
 
Description They have been used by RefugeeYouth and a new organisation NOMAD. The lessons from this project have been disseminated widely within the AHRC Connected Communities Program. The relevant Connected Communities Leadership Fellow has provided positive feedback on a book chapter written by RefugeeYouth.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic