Reached Greenlandic youth through Facebook

Researcher Anna-Sofie Skjervedal got pictures the everyday life of Greelandic youth through Facebook. Photo: From the reseach project
Researcher Anna-Sofie Skjervedal got pictures the everyday life of Greelandic youth through Facebook. Photo: From the research project

Arcticchallenge-researcher Anna-Sofie Skjervedal managed to engage the youth of Greenland using Facebook as her research tool.

Public Participation is set as a legal requirement by the government of Greenland, claiming high standards and level of public involvement in impact assessment in relation to mineral- and petroleum exploration activities in Greenland.

­­­– Yet, as an observer at a public meeting tour in Northern Greenland, I experienced the many challenges that both planners and the public face through the current public participation practice. One of the most striking observations was the very narrow representation of the local public, Skjervedal says.

– The number of meeting attendees were not only scarce, those who showed up were primarily men of the elder generation.

Picture from the project. Se more pictures and the thoughts of the youth here.

A voice missing
The tour was arranged by five different oil companies conducting exploration activities in the area. Research confirms that Skjervedals experience was very much the norm, these kinds of public meetings have few attendees and the ones who do show up are primarily elder men.

The researcher naturally asked herself: What about the Greenlandic youth? What do they think about their own future?

– The Greenlandic government and politicians place great emphasis on young Greenlanders as the actors that are to shape the future development in Greenland, Skjervedal says.  

– I argue that the absence of the voice of young Greenlanders stand in stark contrast to the general discourse when talking of the future development in Greenland.

Picture from the project. Se more pictures and the thoughts of the youth here.

Alternative research methods
At one location during the public meeting tour, the timing had gone wrong, as on this day almost the entire town were absent, because of the yearly dog sledge race was taking place nearby.

– To get the most out of our stay, we managed instead to gather a group of young locals for a spontaneous meeting, Skjervedal says.

The young Greenlanders gained information about the oil exploration activities and the potential work - and education possibilities. They were also questioned about their future and aspirations.  This meeting, combined with the abysmal turnout at the original meetings, gave Skjervedal the idea of using alternative methods to get access to the thoughts of the youth.

– From my point of view their non-participation in the decision-making processes is quite noteworthy. I wanted to investigate what they themselves had to say about the future in Greenland and not least their hopes, dreams, fears and concerns about their own future, Skjervedal says.

And then Facebook came to the fore.

Picture from the project. Se more pictures and the thoughts of the youth here.


Photos of hopes and dreams
Steering away from the common frame of “public meetings”, Skjervedal looked for ways to reach the young Greenlanders. Further, she sought to overcome the all too common challenges experienced by planners during the current public participation processes, such as struggles with accommodation, short time frames, logistics and the high expenses of travelling between the widespread cities and settlements.

Facebook appeared as the obvious solution since most of the youth already uses this social media platform.

– As an attempt to apply a data-collection method which resembled the everyday use of Facebook, which is to post pictures with a small text attached, I included the approach of “photo-elicitation” from the field of visual anthropology, Skjervedal says.

The researcher set up a closed Facebook group named “Photo Forum – Youth in Greenland”. She then recruited 80 young Greenlanders from all parts of Greenland to the group. The group members were informed about the project and instructed on how to participate.

Throughout four weeks the participants were asked to submit a photo relating to a total of four different themes: “Values & interests”, “Hopes and dreams”, “Worries and fears” and “Future vison”.

– I wanted to explore a more collaborative and creative approach to involvement, where the participants could express themselves in a different way. The themes provided the overall frame for the participants, but the visual dimension made room for their own reflections and creativity, Skjervedal explains.

Picture from the project. Se more pictures and the thoughts of the youth here.


Simple and motivating
By the end of the four weeks, 26 percent of the group members had posted at least one picture with a relating text, for each theme.

– These guys had provided a great pool of interesting photos and descriptions for the research, Skjervedal says.

She has plenty of praise for combining Facebook and visual methods in research. While Facebook provided a familiar tool for engagement across the vast distances of the world’s biggest island, the youth had found it to be simple and easy to engage. Though the young participants thought it had been a fun and instructive experience they hadn’t taken the tasks lightly.

 – Due to the themes and the visual element the young participants had given much thought to the choice of photos and what they wanted to express through these. The visual element seems to have played a great motivational role for their involvement in the project, she says.

Anna-Sofie Skjervedal will publish two articles based on this study: “Youth Engagement in Impact Assessment: An Explorative Study using Facebook and Photo-Elicitation to Facilitate Public Participation in Greenland” and “Youth Perceptions of the Future in Greenland: Voices on Hopes, Dreams, Fears and Aspirations”.


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