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Youth Activist Research Project Update December 2019

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Welcome to our second update!

Members of the Young Activists research team met for two days in Dunedin 14-15 November. We had not physically been together since January, and during the intervening time had fortnightly meetings over zoom to update each other on research progress and resolve issues.

The team recently submitted an article for review to an academic journal. This article explores how the traditional requirements of the consent process were often challenged by the groups we are working with. We found that groups wanted to know and trust us before signing a Memorandum of Understanding that guided the research process. The article argues for researchers and their institutions to be flexible with the timing and nature of consent so that it can be a negotiated process between researchers and participant groups. We look forward to hearing from reviewers! Karen has published an article from the pilot study for this Marsden-funded project: Nairn, K. (2019) Learning from young people engaged in climate activism: the potential of collectivizing despair and hope. Young. Nordic Journal of Youth Research. Email if you are interested in a copy of this research.

Team members have already embarked on conducting second interviews and engaged with new participants who were not interviewed in the first round with a combined interview that incorporates questions from the first and second interview protocols. As at 14 November we had conducted 116 interviews – approximately 150 hours of audio! After they are transcribed interviews are coded to mark text relating to various themes, and this process was completed for the first interviews in July 2019. For some of our groups the second round of interviews are already ‘in the can’, and we are working through transcribing, checking, and coding these. Other participants can expect to hear about their second interview over the coming months as we look to complete data collection by early 2020.

The first round of interviews focused particularly on biographical and motivational aspects of activism – who our participants are, what in their background and beliefs motivated them to engage in a group in order to pursue social change, and what actions they perceived as effective or ineffective. The second interview consciously looks back over the past year, asking our participants what has changed in their personal lives, their politics, and their participation in their group, and how they have (or haven’t) sustained their activism. We are seeking to understand how their political world has changed, and what has influenced that change and their developing perceptions of their activism. We have also added some questions which have been raised by our participants in first interviews, such as the nature of activism, whether our participants call themselves an ‘activist’, and perceptions of volunteering one’s time as compared to being paid to be an activist. Some of our participants have ‘aged out’ or left their groups, and we’re particularly interested in the motivations for leaving. For some this has been a positive choice,  but others have felt  burnt-out or frustrated with the work of social change, and groups have had transitions with new activists and leaders.

As we complete the data collection phase of our work, our thoughts turn to analysing and writing about the information that our participants have so generously shared with us. This data consists of interviews, fieldnotes taken after attending meetings and events, and the social media, web pages, and media stories that represent our groups to the world. We are using coding reports compiled by Kyle Matthews and Jude Sligo, and fieldnote mind maps constructed by Amee Parker to help us conceptualise the nature of creating social change across our groups.

We took time during our two days to explore our nascent ideas through writing. Karen Nairn and Amee Parker are writing about how activists think about time in different ways and what this means for how different generations relate to each other when creating social change. Carisa Showden is exploring the complex way that our groups engage with and use online and offline spaces in their activism, challenging the idea of online activism as only consisting of ‘slacktivism’. Jude Sligo is working with two research participants on a collaborative piece of work, where they are identifying the characteristics of rainbow community activist groups that contribute to ameliorating mental health challenges for members of the group. Kyle Matthews is exploring how activists are political through ‘being’ the change that they are working towards.

Our time together finished with an assessment of the two days and planning next steps. With data collection starting to wind down, and analysis and writing winding up, we agreed to do more about keeping our participants in touch with research progress via this blog. We will stay in contact with our groups as we work with them to get their vision as a ‘living manifesto’, and we hope to host those manifestos, in whatever format, on this site. As we present the research at conferences we will write summaries for this blog site to keep participants updated.

If you have any questions about the research email

Ngā mihi nui,

Karen Nairn, Carisa Showden, Judith Sligo, Joanna Kidman, Kyle Matthews, and Amee Parker.

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