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Environment Group Research Report 2005/04 - Continuing the Dialogue on Radioactive Waste Management: Engaging Young Scotland Innovatively


Chapter Four Experiences of e-engagement


4.1 This chapter provides the results from testing the prototype tools for e-engagement, with three groups comprising a total of 26 young people in the 14-21 age group. Following each of the 3 groups we compiled a report of its results from the participants' written comments and our field notes. In this chapter we draw the focus group reports together, under the following sub-headings: -

  • Summary of general comments on the e-engagement
  • Summary of comments relating to each tool
  • Participants' full comments on the tools, from: -
  • the presentations
  • using the prototype tools.
  • the closing discussions.
  • Participants' comments on the group process.

First in this introduction we outline the composition of the groups: -

Group 1 North Lanarkshire.

4.2 Contact was initially made through Young Scot/ Dialogue Youth. The participants were members of North Lanarkshire Youth Council, and met at a local Community Education centre.

4.3 The 8 participants (2 male, 6 female) were aged 16 to 18 years. Their experience with ICT was varied: one participant had very little Internet experience while others appeared to be regular users. The 8 participants worked as 6 'teams' (T1-T6). Two members of the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Dept also attended as observers.

4.4 Group 1 used prototypes of these tools: Blog; Video Interviews (pre-recorded); Live question-answer panel (by streamed video); Live question-answer panel (by chat room); Game ( KU World).

Group 2 Edinburgh

4.5 This drew participants from various locations: contact was made through Highland Youth Voice, Edinburgh Youth Social Inclusion Project ( EYSIP) and, via East Lothian Dialogue Youth, the Geography department of a secondary school in East Lothian.

4.6 There were 9 participants in this event (4 male, 5 female), two of whom were aged 14 years and the remainder 18-21 years old. They had varying interests in and experiences of taking part in discussions on RWM and similar issues:-

  • Four were members or ex-members of Highland Youth Voice
  • Two were Highland members of the Scottish Youth Parliament
  • One was an ex member of the Scottish Youth Parliament's Environment & Rural Affairs Committee, and worked with Edinburgh Youth Social Inclusion Partnership.
  • Two were school pupils from East Lothian and participants in a European youth conference on environmental issues.

4.7 Their experience with ICT was varied although most were regular users. The group met at Napier University in Edinburgh.

4.8 Group 2 and Group 3 (below) used the following prototype tools: Discussion Board; Questionnaire/ opinion poll; Issue Map; and Decision-making Game ("E-Democs").

Group 3 East Lothian.

4.9 Contact was made directly to a local school's Modern Studies department, and the group involved volunteers from the S-4 Modern Studies class. There were 9 participants in this event (3 male, 6 female) aged 15-16 years and experienced users of ICT.

4.10 Many more pupils expressed an interest in participating than were finally able to take part, owing to timetabling pressures and examinations.

Group comparisons

4.11 The groups were each organised according to the approach set out in Chapter 3, but we should note some important differences between them, apart from the difference in tools used that we have already mentioned. These concern the timetabling of the events; the group's previous experience of working together, their ages and interests in RWM.

4.12 Groups 2 and 3 were structured slightly differently from Group 1, following suggestions made by them to allow more time with the tools. We discuss this further in the final section of this chapter.

4.13 The group 1 and 2 participants were of similar ages (14-21, but mostly 16-18) and had extensive experience of group work and meetings in school and/or youth groups to articulate their views on matters of common interest to young people.

4.14 Group 3 participants were younger (15-16) and, as Modern Studies students, had an interest in and experience of discussing current affairs. They also live in close proximity to a nuclear power station (Torness). These factors appeared to stimulate their interest in participating in the group, which was heavily oversubscribed.

4.15 Group 2 was unlike groups 1 and 3 in that they did not all already know each other; this group was invited through various channels, whereas groups 1 and 3 met routinely as members of existing groups.

Summary of General Comments on E-engagement

4.16 This section and the rest of this chapter summarises comments written by the participants themselves, or taken from field notes. The latter were written during the discussion and recorded the main points raised by the participants. They are not verbatim transcripts.

4.17 To aid cross-referencing between this summary and the comments they refer to, the latter were coded using a notation followed throughout this chapter 15 .

Using the tools in organised groups vs. individually

Most appropriate tools for organised group settings

4.18 The 3 groups were unanimous in the view that young people would be more likely to use the tools as part of an organised group, since they would be 'more likely to get round to it'. The group 1 and 2 participants were members (or ex-members) of youth groups likely to get involved in responding to policy consultations. The group 3 participants however were not members of any youth groups that they associated with discussion about radioactive waste management. School classes, particularly Social Education or Modern Studies were seen by them as a more likely context (D19, D20, D21).

4.19 The two 'interview panel' formats, using chat room and webcam/ videoconferencing technologies, were thought the most appropriate for organised groups by Group 1 (D4, D6), who were the only group to assess these tools. The implication was that these were timed events that should coincide with routine meetings, or at least be arranged by the group's facilitators or organisers, since otherwise young people would not be likely to fit them into their own schedules. Other possible reasons for the 'live event' tools being more appropriate for use by organised groups than individuals acting alone were not mentioned, although these reasons might include the need to verify the age or location of the participants through their membership of an organised group.

4.20 The video format (live or pre-recorded) was thought appropriate for allowing a group to access information together (Group 1: P10). Also, the technical complexities of audio and video-based material noted below are an argument for focusing the provision of these on organised group settings, where the required Internet bandwidth and effective technical support are more likely to be available.

4.21 The Issue-Map was considered by both the groups (2 and 3) who tested it to be the most appropriate option for use in an organised setting, i.e. to command the shared attention of the group to a presentation ( e.g. Group 3: D6, P28). It was clearer to the participants how the issue map could be useful within the group partly because several different views could clearly be seen represented on the same screen (Group 3: P30, P97). The explicit links between information, ideas and arguments were seen as useful for understanding a range of opinions on the topic (Group 3: P99). Participants were familiar with 'mind maps' or 'spider diagrams' and saw the Issue Map as an interactive version that allowed them to follow their own route through the materials or be guided through them by a presenter. However this guidance was felt to be necessary, and most participants thought the maps were too difficult to follow to be useful for individuals at home who were unfamiliar with the format (Group 3: P27, P28, P33, P92, P94).

Most appropriate tools for individual use

4.22 For organised settings, the decision-making game format was thought better used individually on shared computers before or after a group discussion (Group 3: P50, P51). The prototype was thought a 'good way to spend a lesson' (Group 3: P50).

4.23 Group 1 thought the KU World game to be the only option likely to be used outside a classroom or organised group environment. (Group 1: D10, D11). The blog format also appealed but was considered to be very dependent on a more graphic presentation style and interesting content.

4.24 Group 2 considered the online questionnaire to be the tool that would most realistically be used by individuals of their own accord. It was seen as a 'having your say' activity that was easily understood, with a well-defined beginning and end; enjoyable because 'you don't need to do a lot of work' ( e.g. Group 2: P39, P41, P42; Group 3: P23, P24, P78, P79, P85).

4.25 Group 3 on the other hand thought the discussion board would be preferred because it was clear that others were taking part and that they could 'talk back' to you, making it 'more sociable' (P74, P89). They ranked the online questionnaire and the decision-making game 2nd and 3rd 'most realistic' for individual use.

4.26 The decision-making game ('E-Democs') prototype had more mixed appeal for groups 2 and 3, and this was because it did not meet the participants' gameplay expectations. That is, they expected the game to have more of the attributes they associated with computer games (for example point-scoring or other mechanism to advance through the game). The 'fun' properties of the game were attributed more to the use of colour and graphics than either its narrative or the questionnaire-style options presented to players. ( e.g. Group 3: O4, P55, P109, P110, P122, P123).

User responsiveness & tool links

4.27 Group 1 participants stressed that tools mainly intended to provide information to young people (as opposed to gathering questions or comments from them) should provide opportunities for them to challenge the experts and/or information presented. This was also given as a reason for linking tools that were rated low on the criteria for 'having a say', e.g. the pre-recorded video interview format, to others that rated highly on 'having a say', e.g. the Blog (Group 1: O3, D5, P14, P18).

Audio/visual technology limitations

4.28 Video and audio are potentially richer formats for presenting information than text or still image. However whether live or pre-recorded, they raise the likelihood of would-be participants experiencing technical and social barriers that restrict their effective access to the information. By this we mean that:-

  • Web browser software may be configured with any one of a number of 'media player' plug-in technologies. These may not be configured to work with the particular audio/video formats used, or may fail to operate reliably (Group 1: O15, O16).
  • The intended users may not be familiar with media player technologies, and need support to get them working (Group 1: O15).
  • The formats consume a great deal of Internet bandwidth and young people would be likely to have less opportunity to download them in any location not equipped with broadband links, and/or they may not be prepared to wait for the download to complete (Group 2: D15).
  • There are likely to be technical and social constraints on individuals listening to audio in shared public spaces unless headphones are available, especially if several people attempt to do so at the same time. (Group 1: P53).
  • Transcripts of audio and video clips would need to be provided to ensure accessibility for people with restricted hearing and vision (Group 1: P53). Although desirable, this would increase the resources required to maintain the content.

4.29 The barriers may be minimised by providing the audio and video on CD- ROMS ( i.e. to minimise problems with download speeds and 'media player' technologies); providing transcripts ( i.e. to aid the visually impaired); and/or using still images in a 'photo story' format as suggested below.

More emphasis on story-telling

4.30 In the Group 2 closing discussion a comment that the tools "still don't convey 'what's it got to do with me'" sparked discussion about how that could best be done. The participants wanted to be able to identify with other young people whose views were represented, and see concrete examples of the effects on their lives, in order to feel more involved.

4.31 The participants liked the story-telling approach used in the E-Democs decision-making game, especially the use of video, and despite problems with audio on some computers. Photo stories were suggested as an alternative option. These are a series of still photographs, e.g. of young people and other actors relating their views or experiences, and with their dialogue given in text captions. This format has been used for many years in magazines for children and young people. It would also minimise technical accessibility problems associated with audio and video.


4.32 This was discussed in Group 3, where participants expected to be able to remain anonymous when contributing to online discussions. This was only mentioned on one of the participants' written comments, regarding the discussion board (P61). However there was general agreement in the closing discussion that "you wouldn't give your name and address".

Colour, graphics, action

4.33 In all 3 groups, it was important to the participants that the tools used bright colours, had content in a variety of formats other than plain text, and that there was always the option to do something other than read text.

Responses on the Group Process

Comments from participants

4.34 At the end of the closing discussions each of the groups was asked to comment on the process itself. The participants also had the opportunity to comment after the group meetings on the report of their own group; a draft Focus Group Report was sent to all members of each (for the East Lothian group, via their teacher) with an invitation to send or email remarks on any aspect of the report to the authors, although in the event no further comments were received.

Group 1: North Lanarkshire

4.35 The comments were overall very positive, although there were some remarks on these aspects of the meeting: -

  • The presentation at the beginning of the workshop was too long. In subsequent groups this was cut from 40 to 30 minutes.
  • The interaction phase should have allowed more time for each team to discuss each tool. In this group each team evaluated each of 5 tools for one of the 3 purposes (finding out about RWM, deciding your point of view, having a say), and referring to only one of the scenarios. This meant in practice that teams were mostly one individual, and had not much more than 5 minutes to comment on each tool. Subsequent groups were arranged with fewer groups and tools, so that teams of 2 or 3 evaluated 4 tools, again for one of the 3 purposes, but using both scenarios in turn. This resulted in approx 12 minutes to evaluate each tool.

Group 2: Edinburgh

4.36 The remarks about the meeting were again enthusiastic, with no specific comments on aspects that could be improved upon.

Group 3 East Lothian

4.37 This had been heavily oversubscribed, and 12 participants had 'signed up' although only 9 were able to take part because the timing of the group coincided with examinations. One comment that "it was better than expected" drew general approval, although again there were no more specific comments on the structure of the workshop.

Responses on follow-up activities

4.38 Each of the participants was also asked to leave contact details if they wanted to be involved again, through either: -

  • The project itself: a follow-up group meeting to be held in Edinburgh was being considered for further discussion of the comments made on the tools, and implications for planning of the engagement process (this proved not to be feasible in the time available).
  • The wider RWM engagement process: by leaving contact details for passing to the Executive, so they could be invited to participate in further activities.

4.39 The response to these requests were: -

Group 1: Of the 8 participants, 3 indicated they would be interested in a follow-up meeting and being contacted later in the engagement process.

Group 2: Of the 9 participants, 7 indicated they would be interested in a follow-up meeting and all 9 in being contacted later in the engagement process.

Group 3: Of the 9 participants, 5 indicated they would be interested in a follow-up meeting and in being contacted later in the engagement process.