“You start to understand why empowerment is so important”

Reidun Norvoll from Work Research Institute at Oslo Metropolitan University is project coordinator of YouCount and manages the Horizon 2020 project since its beginning. At the end of its second year, Reidun looks back at highlights and challenges of 2022 and forward at what lies ahead in 2023. 

Reidun Norvoll from Work Research Institute at Oslo Metropolitan University is project coordinator of YouCount. Photo credits: Sonja Balci / OsloMet

How was it to manage YouCount in 2022?

Managing the YouCount project has been different from the first year where we focused so much on setting up the project. This year, the project has been very busy with implementation of the local cases and evaluation study, and it has taken more shape. This means that I have been less active with deliverables as Coordinator since the task leaders and local case teams have had a stronger role. I have mostly had a supportive role for the empirical research and to complete administrative tasks.

One key experience in this year was that the implementation of local cases and evaluation is hard work. Co-creation does not come easy and successful citizen social science demands good project management skills and organisation on all levels. We are also less in control as our success depends on how the local processes unfold and if we manage to engage youths and stakeholders in research and innovation. There are many researchers, young people and stakeholders to involve and follow up on many levels. It is important to have a continuous "push" and to secure common pace, at the same time as we allow for local dynamics to happen. Still, it has also been real fun and interesting to see how the research unfolds in practice. And then you have all these sweet moments with youths, researchers and other stakeholders involved where you really feel excited about seeing and learning something new. There are so many clever people in the project, and it is such a privilege to be able to work with them. You get impressed again and again, and you can also see the value of collaboration by looking at what we can achieve by complementing our different types of knowledge and skills. This is a daily lesson learned. I also love the European setting, and to get a sense of the "pulse" of Europe. This is a fantastic opportunity when you are working in an EU project and well worth the efforts.

What has been the biggest challenge this year?

As mentioned, I think the most challenging aspect of the project this year has been to secure successful implementation of all the research and innovation activities we have promised and embarked on. We have learned that while some plans go well, other things have been more challenging than expected. For example, engaging all youths and stakeholders we want to work with, continuous co-creation, the YouCount app development and process evaluation survey have been difficult tasks because you need to coordinate so many people across different countries, work packages and languages. Things always take longer time than expected.

My biggest personal challenge was this huge task related to an unexpected requirement this autumn to do a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) of the YouCount app. This was quite unnerving since it delayed our work and nearly demolished the whole app study. I was dealing with the multilevel bureaucracy every day and struggled with the system that has another pace and "logic" than the project. Bureaucracy seems to have "all the time in the world" when we only have a few months for research in a time-limited project. The bureaucratic levels also had different opinions and conclusions, and then you feel quite lost and powerless as researcher and coordinator in the middle of it. I think the sense of powerlessness was the hardest for me. You start to understand the profound impact powerlessness must have on people, and why empowerment is so important.

Still, we always learn from the challenges we face, at the personal and of course at the project level. I am therefore looking forward to digging deeper into the variety of experiences and lessons learned in the coming year. Most of them will be valuable outputs form the project.

And the greatest success of the project in 2022?

One important event was our successful first physical consortium meeting in Copenhagen in June. It was wonderful to see everybody in person and to chat and discuss together. We have such a nice consortium, so meeting in person fills us all with energy. It was also very important for me to have the young citizen scientists with us, and to see how they could participate and contribute so importantly to the project. They are really clever and it is important not to underestimate them. I have also been proud of the situations where we managed to link young people together across community and university settings and when I see students and junior researchers prosper by taking part in the activities in YouCount. I do believe in the potential of linking science with society and education.

A second success was the good review the YouCount project received in the mid-reporting by the EU. We are working hard, so it is so valuable and inspiring to experience that our efforts are acknowledged and that we are regarded as able to create significant impact. I will also hereby take the opportunity to thank our reviewers as well as the Advisory-, Safety- and Ethics Board members for all support along the way. These inputs are valuable for us, and we are taking the inputs into account when planning the next period.

What are you looking forward to and what do you wish for YouCount in the new year?

There are many things to look forward to. I think the most interesting and exciting thing will be to start analysing all our data and lessons learned across the cases and sub-studies and to further develop youth citizen social science. There is so much to explore and learn once we start putting all the different pieces together. It will be thrilling to see what we have found out.

Moreover, it will be really interesting to see what kind of publications and presentations that will come out of the joint work. We are planning a series of open webinars on aspects of social inclusion and youth citizen social science. I am also looking forward to our planned handbook about youth citizen social science and the final hybrid conference (Welcome!). But before that, we are going to have our next physical consortium meeting in San Sebastian. This is really something to look forward to.

I wish that YouCount will continue to prosper and to make the best out of its potential. That we will have a lot of positive energy in our last year and to keep supporting each other in all the various aspects of the project. And to have fun – that is always very important.

I want to thank you all for being a part of the YouCount project in one or another way, and for all the contributions you have given to the project during 2022.

Finally, I wish you all a peaceful and relaxing Christmas and the best for the new year. Happy new year!

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Saturday, 28 January 2023

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