OPEN Project's Youth-led Research Diary Part Four: Alcohol and Other Drugs Research Project

Between 2021-2023 with funding from theIdeas Fund, young people from theOPEN Projectin Shetland were matched with professional researchers to support them to conduct research firstly on a space for young people and then the impact of alcohol and other drugs. 

 In this blog series, one of the peer researchers for the project Shannon Boston is sharing their research journey, what they’ve learned, what tools they’ve used and what support they received along the way. 





Its mid-November and the Alcohol and other drugs project is taking shape, we have our core questions for our focus groups and interviews, we have a research team of young people volunteering to take part and we are ready to get out into the community and gather our findings. 
We spent some time plotting out how we wanted our next couple months to go, we sat and wrote out a timeline which Akira took charge with. I spent some time putting together a poster to draw interest to the project using Canva which is a graphic design tool which I have found hugely helpful tool when I want to get creative. We put up posts on Facebook, emailed schools, youth groups and stuck some posters up around places we thought young people might be. We wanted to cast our net wide to get as many people involved as possible, we are aware everyone’s life experiences are different and wanted to give the chance for that range or possibly lack of range from our work

Shannon Boston
Shannon Boston

Between December and February we conducted 5 interviews, we would start off by exploring the word culture with our interviewee leading onto a dictionary explanation of the word for clarity. The rest of the interview is structured around core questions asking interviewees what they thought of Shetlands alcohol and other drugs culture and looking at why young people might use any type of substance and what problem use can look like leading onto support they would like to see available.  
The interviews provided a lot of quotes so we felt it was time to go back to the research team. The purpose of the meeting was to explore themes that were coming up in the interviews by grouping together quotes that say similar things, having the research team involved with this part of the process means that they would have a good grasp of what we were learning and it also gave them a chance to forecast any predictions for what they felt the main themes would be nearer the end of the project after coding. What the research team was doing was coding done with paper and a flipchart during this meeting instead of on a computer so they really can grasp what the data was telling them and hopefully they feel like invaluable members of the team.  

Between February and March Akira and I managed to organise 3 focus groups, after the first focus group and a lack of uptake on focus groups offered through different networks we decided we would rather rebrand our focus groups into workshops and make them more interactive.

We still used our core questions and the same format as before but instead we used things like smart survey, Dixit cards and we used Menti to generate a word cloud. We also had a hard hitter question at the end where we would hand out envelopes with a question asking the young people if they could change one thing about alcohol and other drugs culture in Shetland what would it be. Amy Calder from YouthLink Scotland one of our professional researchers was actually due up for the March research team meeting so she was able to be our guinea pig, with us running the new workshop idea by her and making sure that what we planned to do still counted as research, she was very pleased with our work and said it looked great.

Having Amy up was great, she helped me wrap my head around coding during the afternoon followed by a meal at a local restaurant for dinner with myself, Akira, Amy and our boss Una, it was so lovely to come together and just relax for an hour or so. Afterwards we headed back to the office to set up for the research team coming in. Amy had planned a fun research task researching our own question about a box of celebrations, the team really enjoyed this and got really inventive making polls on their phone and messaging group chats to conduct their research task – Amy mentioned it was the first time she had seen someone do that during that particular research task and was impressed by the young people. We used the rest of the meeting for Amy to talk through the participative democracy certificate (PDC) to see if any of the volunteers were keen to gain this qualification. Most of the team wanted to do it and Amy explored ways in which they could do their own bit of research in order to get their PDC. 


After the meeting we said our thank yous and goodbyes to Amy for coming and visiting. We were broken up for the Easter holidays as Amy was leaving so as her holiday (working holiday) ended ours started! Once we were back in the office we would circulate the new workshop around our networks and hopefully get some new participants for our research. More about how we got on in my next blog. 


This blog is part of a series, if you enjoyed reading part four, you can find the other parts of the series here.