'Covid Conversations': experiences of the pandemic in Scotland

This report presents findings from qualitative research carried out between December 2020 and February 2021. These were referred to as ‘Covid Conversations’ as they gave people an opportunity to share their experiences of the pandemic and the public health measures that have been in place.


During the coronavirus pandemic the Scottish Government has asked the public to follow various public health measures. These have been aimed at keeping people and communities safe. However, we know that capacity to follow these behaviours can be affected by a range of personal circumstances.

Previous research has shown that the impact of the coronavirus has been unequal, with some groups affected more than others[1]. Research has also shown that some groups of people may find it harder to follow public health measures than others, and that some measures are more emotionally or practically challenging than others.[2]

To further understand the experiences of people in Scotland who may face specific challenges in following some public health measures, four online focus groups were held between December 2020 and February 2021. These were referred to as 'Covid Conversations' and they gave people an opportunity to share their experiences of the pandemic and the public health measures that have been in place, focusing on what has gone well and what could be further improved. This research was done in collaboration with members of the Scottish Government's Compliance/Adherence Advisory Group who had central oversight of the project, including interpretation of findings.

While not presenting a representative account of people across Scotland, these conversations sought to illustrate some of the barriers to adherence with public health measures that people face.


Across the four sessions held on Zoom, a total of 25 people participated and shared their experiences. Participants were recruited through members of the Compliance/Adherence Advisory Group and were connected with one of three third sector organisations that support people whose lives are affected by disadvantage, and in particular food poverty. A minority of participants were staff and volunteers of these organisations. The Scottish Government offered participants £25 vouchers for their time; four people took up this offer.

Given the potentially sensitive nature of some discussions, conversations were facilitated by people connected to the participating organisations. The facilitators followed a general topic guide that had been prepared in collaboration with Scottish Government analysts (see Annex A). One Scottish Government analyst attended each session to take notes and observe.

At the start of each session, the facilitator set out the purpose of the research, asked for verbal permission for the session to be audio recorded, and reminded participants that they would remain anonymous in any reporting. It was agreed with participants not to name the organisations in this report. Participants in three of the four sessions agreed to be recorded; recordings were made to support note-taking and it was agreed with participants that they would be deleted once notes had been completed. For the session that was not recorded, detailed notes were taken.

Scottish Government analysts observed each session and then analysed and summarised what was discussed into four themes to support answering the research questions. These themes capture what has been going well, what has been more challenging, and future priorities regarding: health and wellbeing, finances and work, communities and families, and communications. Excerpts from recordings and notes are included to illustrate the experiences of participants in their own words.

A draft report was shared with participants for review and to offer further reflections and suggestions. Many of those who participated have agreed to meet later in 2021 for follow-up conversations. These future sessions will provide helpful evidence of how the issues people are dealing with are changing.[3]

The insights presented here are from people already connected with the organisations who recruited the sample, and from people who were interested in the project, rather than those who declined to take part, or did not respond. Therefore, it is recognised that they were more likely to be motivated to talk about their experiences than those who are not connected to any form of support. An advantage of holding conversations online was that participants were able to bounce off each other like in real life. However, it meant that the views of those without access to digital technology were not captured.


We are grateful to the people who took part in the research and shared their experiences so honestly, and to members of the Compliance/Adherence Advisory Group for facilitating this research.


Email: covid-19.behaviours@gov.scot

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