Graduate Guidance

Making sense of data on youth citizenship

Jonathan Duckett

As part of my PhD research I aimed to explore young people’s understandings of national identity and citizenship in relation to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Scottish Independence Referendum. I conducted focus groups after the Games during the lead up to the referendum with 16 and 17 year old first time voters. I also carried out individual semi-structured follow-up interviews six months later. This qualitative study lent itself to an inductive analytic approach as the research aimed to produce geographical knowledge about young people’s experiences of these two significant events. Due to the participants being under 18 years old, it was necessary for the project to be reviewed and receive ethical approval by the University Ethics Committee prior to the start of the study.

Analysis began with the transcription of the focus group recordings. While this took a considerable amount of time, the value of such a task to the research project should not be underestimated. I found that transcription required a different type of listening to the skill of listening to participants within the research setting. Replaying the recordings allowed the research encounters to be partially re-envisaged and analysed. Through this process, I became more attuned to conversational dynamics between participants and uncovered previously unheard side-line exchanges within the discussions. Emotional tones locked within the data also became more apparent, as young people audibly expressed a deep excitement or fear towards the very real prospect of a future independent Scotland. Typing their words helped to develop a deeper knowledge of the material, bridging the data recorded as sound and the data produced as text. The rhythm of transcription, scattered with bursts of typing and pauses, created space for analytic reflection. These moments often sparked revelatory insights into the data and provided an opportunity for participant references to be further investigated. Initial ideas were noted down, which informed the project’s wider analysis and the development of questions addressed in the follow-up interviews.

After the focus groups and follow-up interviews were fully transcribed, the task of analysing the significant stack of transcripts appeared daunting. However, I found that systematically working through the transcripts line-by-line and scribbling down codes when they emerged to be an exhilarating thought process. Successive reading triggered new codes and connections, as I continuously moved between data at the line level and considered its significance to the wider dataset. In order to make sense of the web of ideas that was generated, analytic codes were devised and categorised into themes and subthemes. At times, the process was experimental and creative, which saw the development, demise and amalgamation of categories. However, this was not an attempt to make the data ‘fit’. Instead, working through the apparent contradictions and divergence of opinion often revealed valuable and unexpected insights into young people’s understandings of the nation. Therefore, the process of data analysis examined the relationships between themes, as well as focusing closely on their constituent parts. Assessing the focus groups and interviews, both together and separately, also bridged the temporality of the data. This analytical stage of the research project helped to explain how the views and experiences of young people in my study varied across the passage of these two unique events.

Jonathan Duckett is a Human Geography PhD student at Loughborough University. His current research focuses on Scottish youth citizenship and national identity in relation to the cultural and political events of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Scottish Independence Referendum.