OPEN Project's Youth-led Research Diary Part One: Finding a Place and Space

During 2021-2022 with funding from the Ideas Fund, young people from the OPEN Project in Shetland were matched with professional researchers to support them to conduct research on a space for young people.

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

Beginning a research journey

I, Shannon Boston, and my long-time friend Akira Foster were successful in securing our job roles in the autumn of 2021 for the OPEN Space Project. The aim of the project at the time was to ask young people if they felt that there was a need for a space for them in Lerwick, taking a lead on community action research so that young people can have an influence changes in their communities that they would want.

We were matched up with professional researchers Amy Calder (YouthLink Scotland) and Jennifer Russell (Anderson Solutions), us peer researchers started this work with no formal research training, previous education or short courses. Professional learning had taught me and Akira a lot but we did start this role with a blank slate of knowledge and hearts full of passion to create change for young people.

Using digital tools to inform research

Amy and Jennifer were our rudders to help us steer course within the project. We worked alongside researchers to set our core questions that we would use in focus groups and interviews. Creating a Miro board online to show our journey coming to core questions and the projects journey. We really did have to let all our questions grow arms and legs before chopping them off and having our final core questions, we never would have got such rich results in our data without Jennifer taking the time to help us.

Jennifer also helped us put together a survey which was circulated.  Amy has been our YouthLink Scotland anchor, sharing innovative ways to report findings that she had done in the past, showing our research team projects she had done in the past and has been invaluable when it comes to consent.

Research participants were able to lay out ideas on a digital wall using Miro

Challenges along the way

We always had our researchers as a sounding board while we were conducing our research, we found it hard to get the ball rolling with setting up focus groups but young people were keen to be involved for the most part. We did sadly find that some young people had no enthusiasm to share changes they wanted because they didn’t see the point when nothing ever changes.

We did however tend to find that even these young people would be involved by the end of session. The young people spit firing ideas to each other and coming up with changes they would like to see. We ran interviews during this time with our core questions. All interviews and focus groups were recorded and transcribed by us the peer researchers, we would also write up themes that we felt the young people were coming up with as well as any surprises from what they told us.

Akira and I worked alongside a group of young people called the youth committee which was our main point of contact for any data that we gathered that we had decided a theme on, even with quoted evidence we got the youth committees go ahead before going ahead with parts of the project and providing key influencing in final reports.

The survey was circulated throughout Shetland to gather views and a padlet that young people could add their preferred place for a space on a map alongside a description, Jennifer was such an amazing asset for us with this.  Akira and I were also lucky enough to be invited to present at the public protection committee and got the chance to do informal focus groups with the adults using the same core questions. It was so interesting to hear from the public protection committee after months of hearing young people’s views this showed the similarities and gaps in views and opinions between the generations.

Shannon and Akira smile for the camera indoors, holding some of their research papers for the camera
Shannon and Akira surveyed young people on their alcohol and other drug use in Shetland.


Next came the analysis. Amy and Jennifer travelled up to Shetland to help with this bit because we had so much information and not a lot of know how when it came to breaking everything down. Our professional researchers came to the rescue during a session with the youth committee where every quote gathered was cut up and put into themes and clustering quotes within our themes, basically coding done without a computer.

‘Coding’ is a process of reviewing all of the data to find themes and patterns to help make sense of what the research is telling us, this can be done using analysis software, but it can also easily be done with print outs of the transcripts and highlighter pens!

As peer researchers it was such a great way to learn how to bring the young people into the analysis while also learning on the job how analysis can be done in this method. The youth committee being able to be involved in this step really meant that our young people had been on the journey with us and were able to honour their peer’s views through their brilliant participation and work.

Jennifer and Amy stayed the day after to help us figure out how we were going to report back all our findings and helped us plot out our presentation report, we all sat around a table for hours pouring over the hard work of the night before deciding how best to hold onto the power of the young people’s words by making sure our report had Shetlands young people’s voices at the heart of what we spoke about. We had plenty of opportunities to share our presentation to the community in the following months but that’s not what happened next.

The next adventure on the research journey

We had been curious throughout our work to link in with other youth led networks, we knew about the Hot Chocolate Trust down in Dundee as OPENs young people had linked in with them online on a residential. Our young people were really excited by what Hot Chocolate were providing and wanted the same, so me and Akira went off to Dundee on our first work trip together (so exciting) to find out what Hot Chocolate had that we could learn from or implement. But more on that in the next blog.

The Ideas Fund administer this innovative funding for the British Science Association, provided by the Welcome Trust.

Blog Series

If you enjoyed reading Shannon's first blog you can find the next parts in this blog series here.