Using big data to improve youth culture in Birmingham

Birmingham youth collective Beatfreeks have highlighted the marginalisation of young people within the city. Birmingham City University postgraduate researcher and Midlands4Cities scholar Jill Robinson has partnered with them on an innovative research project investigating the role of big data in public sector policymaking, as well as its relationship to young people’s social and cultural inequalities.

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The challenge – bridging the gap

Jill has been involved with young people for most of her career, including a role as Visiting Fellow at Aston University. While there, she worked on a project that made her acutely aware of the distance and distrust between young people and city policymakers. The desire to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots of society fuelled Jill to conduct this research.

The delivery

Jill has often been inspired by Beatfreeks’ work, so was thrilled when she got to know and work alongside their CEO, Anisa Haghdadi. “The company has built up an enthusiastic following among young people from a range of backgrounds,” Jill explains. “They are drawn to Beatfreeks through their creative opportunities but also by their commitment to championing their interests and concerns with public institutions, businesses and media.”

Beatfreeks’ Brum Youth Trends (BYT) 2018 survey captured the views of more than 1,200 young people between 14 and 25, something Jill was heavily involved in. “I acted as a ‘critical friend’ on the analysis of the responses and the drafting of the final report. I also observed the presentation of the report to many young people at the BYT summit last October,” Jill says. “Next, I shall be looking more closely at how they creatively collect and visualise data to make it more accessible and understandable.”

Looking to the future

There are short and long-term hopes for the impact of Jill’s research project. “Encouraging young people to identify their concerns through telling their own stories based on their data gathering may attract the attention of policymakers. I hope it will encourage them to be more discriminating in their selection and application of data,” Jill says. “In the longer term, this will could lead to a shift in the balance of power between marginalised young people, and those responsible for shaping and implementing public policies.”

RESFEST - showcasing the work

Jill will be presenting some aspects of her research at RESFEST, the all-day conference at Birmingham City University highlighting the PhD community. "I think events like RESFEST are a valuable opportunity for PhD students to go beyond their personal  research circle  and connect with colleagues from different disciplines and at different stages of their research journey," she says. "It’s good to be challenged to explain your research topic  to non specialists without hesitation, repetition and without jargon!"