Over the last six months, CNS have been working with young people in Clydebank, training them as co-researchers in utilising the Capabilities approach. Here, Victoria Bianchi, our Local Coordinator for Clydebank, reflects on her experiences in the area since December 2019.
If I were to sum up my experience at St. Eunan’s Primary School, the first words that spring to mind would undoubtedly be ‘animal-lovers’. As Local Coordinator for Clydebank, I’ve been working alongside CNS Research Associate Sarah Ward to plan and deliver a series of research workshops exploring the Capabilities framework with a group of pupils aged 10-11 years.
From December 2019 to March 2020, these workshops explored the participants’ priorities in relation to their neighbourhood, specifically focusing on the 12 Capabilities domains developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum.
When conducting these small group workshops, Sarah and I use several research tools to help the group reflect on the Clydebank area where they live. We ask them what’s important to them, and what they feel helps or hinders their plans for the future.
The sessions often begin with games and icebreakers to get discussions going. These help to establish friendly, relaxed relationships with the children, and create a space where fun and research can co-exist.
Animals: the name of the Capabilities game!
Animals played a big part in my experience at St. Eunan’s and Sleeping Lions, without doubt the group’s favourite game, was a real highlight.
Unlike some activities which were specifically linked to Capabilities domains, this game is all about confidence, creativity and initiative.
The rules are simple: most of the class are ‘lions’ and sleep on the floor. The ‘humans’ have to make them move without touching them – by making them laugh, or giving them a fright, for example. We were asked to play this game almost every week!
Even in our secondary school workshops games regularly feature, which lifts the energy of the room. As time went on, more and more creative play crept into our sessions, keeping them as dynamic and fun as possible.
Pets take top priority
The theme of animals also appeared during the activities that linked more directly to the main framework of our Capabilities research. Participants voted on the top five capability domains that were most important to them. One which was clearly of great importance to the St. Eunan’s group was ‘enjoying nature, animals and pets’.
This was the number one priority for the small-group setting. Over the course of the weeks it became clear why. Discussion around this priority focused primarily on pets; most of the group have them, and they clearly care for them deeply. Animals are incredibly important to this group. They felt that children should be supported, either financially or logistically, to have pets or to be able to visit animals.
When participants drew portraits of themselves and the significant things in their lives, pets were prominent. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a group trip to the Zoology department at the University of Glasgow planned and we’ll reschedule it as soon as we can.
Discussion of animals flowed naturally for the group, with many expressing their emotional investment in their pets. After one session, Sarah and I highlighted this focus on pets to the class teacher, who told us that, for several of these pupils, their relationship with animals was a key source of affection in their lives.
In this context, it became clear how pets can function for children and young people as an additional family member that can provide a nurturing and secure relationship in their lives.
Relationships prove fundamental
Towards the end of our time at St. Eunan’s, we helped the group develop their skills as co-researchers. This saw them deliver short speeches to the other Primary 6 and 7 classes in the school about their work on Capabilities. They also prepared introductions to questionnaires and, after distributing them, the participants helped the other pupils to complete these.
Within the questionnaires, the pupils ranked their top five priorities, and offered short reflections on their top three. These were combined with those from the small group to collate a top five for the school in general:
1. Being healthy
2. Having good relationships with family & friends
3. Enjoying nature, animals and pets
4. Living a long life
5. Having a job, place to live, food and clothes
As we can see, the small group’s top priority became third overall when combined with the rest of the school sample. Given my experience with the small group’s participants at St. Eunan’s primary, however, I would argue that pets were very much understood as ‘family’.
There is therefore a close connection between the second and third priorities. The relationships young people have, with humans or animals, are key components to living a happy and healthy life.
The approach we take to working with children and young people prioritises the relationships between participant and researcher. We create dynamic, play-based activities to build these relationships, allowing participants to freely talk about and reflect on their own experiences. This supports young people when developing autonomy in their own research journey.
At St. Eunan’s, as in all of our research work, we’re very much open to the quirks of the research journey. This might involve more intense group discussion on the importance of pets – or simply lying on the floor pretending to be tired lions!
Responses to COVID-19
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.