The People's Panel - cost of living: research findings

Research findings from the 'People's Panel' on the cost of living from March 2022 to March 2023. This publication also details the background and motivation for developing the People’s Panel, how it was delivered and what impact it has made.

Method – What we did


The goal was to recruit 30 adults living in Scotland with diverse experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring representation across the protected characteristics,[13] who could offer unique perspectives on wellbeing issues. Consideration was also given to intersectionality.[14] This means that individuals were selected based on the diversity of their experiences, which may have encompassed various social and personal identities. As such, this was not intended to be a representative sample of the Scottish population. The aim was to recruit people based on their breadth of experiences to provide rich, in-depth information. These lived experience perspectives can then be synthesized, alongside other evidence, to identify gaps or problem areas, formulate research questions and make better informed decisions.

Participants were identified in two ways:

1. Recontact database. Individuals who had taken part in two online surveys and had agreed to be contacted about further research.[15]

The Scottish Government research team emailed these individuals (around 2,500 people) a survey to gather their interest in joining the People’s Panel. The survey included questions about their pandemic experiences, such as employment, housing, shielding, and compliance with guidance. Additionally, there were questions to identify the protected characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, and disability status. 834 surveys were returned and 793 individuals expressed their willingness to be considered for the panel. Potential members were then selected based on their experiences (e.g., shielding or job loss) and their response to protective measures (e.g., adherence to rules/guidance). Random selection was conducted within these different categories.

2. Through third sector organisations. The Scottish Government research team also contacted a range of equality organisations to ensure representation of individuals with diverse protected characteristics. For example, this included individuals who might not have been able to complete an online survey due to not having access to digital devices.

29 members were invited to join the People’s Panel, while an additional 31 individuals with closely matching experiences were placed on a reserve list. In cases where there was no response or a member withdrew, reserve members were invited to join the panel.

One of the notable challenges was ensuring diverse representation within the panel. While efforts were made to include individuals from various backgrounds, there were segments of the population not included. For example, those who were under 16, or those who lived in a care home during the pandemic. However, for some groups of people the panel set up may not have been appropriate or it would have required facilitators with specific expertise.

A stakeholder advisory group was set up, including representation from colleagues working in the third sector across a range of equality organisations.[16] Following two panel events, an information session was conducted for these stakeholders. During this session, initial findings were presented to them, and their opinions were sought on the panel’s formation, including potential constraints and suggestions for improvements. There was also engagement with a ‘critical friend’ – this was an academic, with a background in public participation. Their role was to listen to our planned approach for the events and offer guidance and constructive critique.

Across the six People’s Panel events, a total of 24 members participated, with attendee numbers ranging from 15 to 23 for each event. Following each event, panel members were presented with a shopping voucher worth £125 per session attended as compensation for their time.

Panel Process

Two weeks before each online event, the research team initiated discussions with Scottish Government policy colleagues to identify pressing decision-making issues that would benefit from the input of lived experiences in order to impact policy outcomes. (See appendix A and B for the full list of People’s Panel topics and timeline of how an event was organised).

Initially, a combination of whole panel sessions and breakout room sessions in smaller groups was planned. However, as the panel progressed, members expressed a strong preference for the smaller breakout room format. Consequently, the majority of discussions were conducted in this format. Figure 1 below details how each panel event was organised:

Figure 1: Panel event timings and activities

  • 9am. Welcome, findings from previous event and post event survey
  • 9.25am. Impact of findings (policy team)
  • 9.40am. Breakout group (session 1)
  • 11.10am. Break
  • 11.25am. Breakout group (session 2)
  • 12.20pm. Lunch
  • 12.50pm. Breakout group (session 3)
  • 1.50pm. Thanks and goodbye
  • 2pm. Close (Research team remain on call until 3pm)
  • After event. Post-event survey and voucher sent to members

Experienced facilitators from the research team and staff members from the Scottish Government Social Research profession facilitated the breakout sessions and took notes. See appendix C and D for the facilitator guides and research questions.


The analysis was conducted in two stages. After each People’s Panel event, the aim was to promptly deliver the information to Ministers and policy colleagues within two weeks of each event. To achieve this, the research team performed interim thematic analysis to identify key themes and impressions. The findings were also reported back to the members at each subsequent event. Following this, the research team carried out systematic analysis to identify themes, ideas, or opinions that may have been overlooked in the interim analysis.

This report illustrates the findings using quotes from the panel members. The quotes reflect various viewpoints, and provide insight into the kinds of discussions that were had at the panel events. Some views were shared across most of the panel members and some issues were more specific to a smaller group of people. However, it is important to highlight that it was not the aim here to achieve consensus or resolve differences, as might be appropriate in a deliberative process.

Descriptive terminology is used to add clarity on the views. For example, ‘some’ members or ‘many’. It was not the intention to quantify the members’ views, but it should be noted that in general, ‘many’ or ‘most’ members refers to views that were shared across a large section of the sample. Use of the term ‘some’ is used to reflect an idea or viewpoint but without specifying the number. Certain issues were more specific to a smaller sub-section of panel respondents but these are no less important just because fewer people experienced them.

After each event, panel members were invited to complete a post-event survey to provide feedback on their experience with the panel. This provided the research team with instant feedback and data on topics such as trust and confidence, over time. See appendix E for a summary of these survey responses.

Participatory Approach

The goal was to facilitate and empower individuals with lived experience of the discussed topics, to have their voices heard by policymakers in the Scottish Government.

Therefore, the research approach was designed not only to collect people’s opinions but also to help members further develop their ideas and opinions throughout each event and over the course of all six events. This involved capacity-building for the members and careful facilitation to encourage deep thinking about the issues at hand. As the panel progressed, members became increasingly knowledgeable, leading to more relevant and informed responses. Their growing confidence also expanded the breadth and depth of their contributions.

Unlike deliberative democracy approaches[17], the intention was not to seek a consensus of opinion on the subjects. Instead, the aim was to uncover contrasting experiences and unearth distinct and possibly innovative perspectives. The objective was to present these voices to decision-makers, prompting them to reflect deeply on the realities of people’s experiences.

Importantly, the research team sought to convey diverse views, ideas, and opinions on the issues that may not have otherwise surfaced or been given attention.

Trust, Relationships and Ethical Considerations

Becoming familiar with panel members, their needs and culture and any barriers to participation, including communication, were vital considerations for planning and delivering this panel.

The subjects discussed during the People’s Panel events were challenging and emotionally charged. Given the sensitive nature of these conversations, it was crucial for the research team to establish positive relationships and trust with the members, prioritising their wellbeing throughout the process. See appendix F for a summary of the main ethical considerations.

Trust was fostered by maintaining transparency with the members. They were made aware of how the information gathered would be used to inform policy decisions alongside other forms of evidence. It was important to manage their expectations, ensuring that they understood that their input was one of many sources that policy teams might consider. Each event included a segment where the policy team from the previous event shared how the gathered information had been utilised, providing an opportunity to update members and further engage them in the policymaking process (See appendix E for post event survey scores covering trust).

Steps were taken to protect the wellbeing of everyone involved in the People’s Panel. Facilitators and notetakers were briefed before each event, and debriefing sessions were held afterward. Relevant support resources, such as mental health charities, cost of living assistance, or Citizens Advice, were provided during each session. It was identified in the first two sessions that it would be helpful to have a trained Mental Health First Aider[18] on standby throughout the events. This was implemented from event 3 onwards. Moreover, facilitators of each breakout group created a safe space where members could feel supported during sensitive discussions.

Purpose of this report

This report was written in order to share with wider audiences how the panel was set up, and what was found out. It documents the panel approach and outcomes but it was not a underlying part of the panel process.



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