Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland, Clydebank

The Pursuit of Happiness & Confidence: Clydebank’s Capabilities Co-researchers

Expressing opinions in group discussions isn’t always easy, and for many people it can be a bit intimidating. This wasn’t the case for the young people from St. Peter the Apostle High School involved in our recent capabilities workshop! Even with researchers recording and facilitating, there was plenty of discussion on the importance of feeling happy and confident.

Capabilities Approach in Clydebank

The voices of children and young people sit at the core of our research and running workshops in local schools is one way that we do this. We use a research model called the Capabilities Approach. Part of this involves training groups of young people to be co-researchers so that they can design their own research tools and collect and analyse their own data, with the support of our researchers.

The Capabilities Approach, developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, seeks to address poverty through improving quality of life. This model allows our participants and co-researchers to create a framework of goals for themselves and their schools based on what they feel are the most important capabilities to living a fulfilling life.

So what does our capabilities work look like in practice, then?

Back in March, groups of S2 and S3 pupils at St. Peter the Apostle High School in Clydebank took part in their last workshop on capabilities, which focused on the importance of feeling happy and confident. This session was part of a series where they looked at different capabilities and research skills each week. You can see the whole model here.

Working in pairs, our young people took turns asking each other these four questions:

  • Why is it important to feel happy and confident?
  • How would you measure whether a young person felt happy and confident?
  • What could stop them feeling happy and confident?
  • What could help them to feel happy and confident?

The pair exercises are a great way to get participants talking. The discussion amongst the group covered a lot of ground, from the importance of friends and family, to discussing the effects post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might have on a person’s capability to feel happy and confident.

The young people in the group hadn’t worked together in this way previously but quickly got on with first of all interviewing each other and then working in two groups to discuss the questions further making insightful contributions to the conversation.

Happiness and Confidence: Enablers and Barriers

Using the Capabilities Approach in this way is working really well for young people when they are analysing the key enablers and barriers to achieving their capability goals.

One of the main things to come out of these discussions was the importance of good relationships with friends and family. This was seen as a key enabler to helping the young people to feel happy and confident.

The group felt that having the opportunity to take time to themselves was really important too. Whether attending an IT or gaming club, or even getting into a bit of painting, leisure time was earmarked as a key source of happiness.

When asked about measuring happiness and confidence, the groups felt that signs of someone not being their usual self might indicate unhappiness, or low levels of confidence. For example, if it’s obvious that someone is “putting on a front”, they might be having trouble with their confidence:

“You can tell by the way someone speaks. If their voice is high-pitched, or if they talk a lot, it might mean that they are not okay.”

Five capabilities for a fulfilling life

Feeling happy and confident came out as one of the five main priorities our group identified as important for them. The other four are:

  • Feeling safe
  • Being able to learn
  • To have a good job, place to live, food and clothes
  • To have good relationships with family and friends

The group then gathered ideas on what actions to take – using good old post-it notes and flip-charts to map out opinion and initiative.

A group of young co-researchers and a CNS researcher present a poster during a Capabilities workshop

During the last part of the session, our co-researchers split into groups once again, discussing and further developing ideas from the flip-charts. They had just one minute to present their chosen idea to the rest of the cohort.

There were lots of great ideas, including work experience exercises, and setting up peer counsellors in every year group. As well as this, there was an appetite for more learning groups for young people, and a desire for opportunities to attend clubs. A lack of transport options was identified as a key barrier to young people attending current activities.

Next steps and responses to COVID-19

The next step for this group is to design their own data collection tool about capabilities. They’ll use this to undertake research with their peers, then work with our research team to analyse the data. The tool was designed just before the COVID-19 lockdown started, so we hope to work with the group to use it as soon as is possible. We’ll also start this process with groups of children and young people in other areas where we are working.

We know that, at time of writing, it might be a little while before we’re running workshops in person again. Our research work is still well underway, though. We’ve been capturing the experiences and responses from services and organisations who work with children, young people and their families. Find out more about our new research and read the briefings we’ve produced in partnership with Policy Scotland and NSEE.

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