Short films and research engagement: Young People and the EU Referendum

Since February 2016 we at WISERD have been running a small project on Young People and the EU Referendum in partnership with Youth Cymruthe Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) and the National Assembly for Wales’ Youth Engagement Team and our talented cameraman Justin at Farsight Creative.

As well as writing around 30 blogs on this site, giving presentations at numerous conferences across the UK and appearing on Channel 4 News, the team has also been involved in making two short films to explore how young people themselves feel about the EU Referendum. After being lucky enough to get ESRC funding through Cardiff University’s Impact Acceleration Account to produce the films, we travelled around South Wales, talked to young people about our research, and then filmed their reactions to our findings. The key findings we asked about were those showing young people to be more supportive of EU membership but less likely to turn out to vote on the 23rd June, to have low levels of trust in the referendum campaigns and to be getting most of their political information through online newspapers rather than social media. For many of the young people we filmed, these findings rang true, but for others there were differences of opinion.

The final short films show the young people we spoke to alongside statistics from our research project. The films respond to two big questions – ‘what did young people think of the EU referendum campaigns?’ and ‘what next for youth engagement after Brexit?’ The films will be screened at 12:15pm on the 6th October in the Pierhead Building Cardiff Bay. For more information click here. Following the screening the films will be available on this website.

The difficult bits

The hardest part of the film-making was actually finding young people who were interested in taking part. Especially those who weren’t sure which way to vote (and not hugely interested in our findings!). The second hardest part was putting the different pieces together. Because the films are a form of engagement and not research, we had to do a lot thinking around how to present the findings and the insights from the young people. We had none of our usual research terminology like ‘sample selection’ or ‘data sets’ to fall back on and relied a lot on the expertise of our partners. On this point it was important to know our limits and always ask for advice and guidance on how to make the final versions engaging, and not necessarily scientific. We wanted a taster of views and opinions to show the way in which statistics and research are interpreted and seen by the groups they relate to, so rather than representing all ‘young people’ we went for small cuts and comments, stories and personal preferences, then put them alongside our research findings. The most interesting thing is how close the two were. The young people we talked to were really well informed and understood the findings perfectly, they all had something to say about the statistics and how it applied to them but also the wider media and context. The overriding impression from the films for us, though you can make your own minds up once you watch them, is of young people who are asking the same questions about politics you might expect from adults, but framed in perhaps a more optimistic way than is presented in the media.

The successes

One of the things that made the project run most smoothly was doing it in partnership with organisations that already work with young people. Not only did this make advertising the films and the screening more effective, but it helped with lots of the detail associated with making films of this nature. For example, we included statistics from our study in the film thanks to a comment from Youth Cymru representative Rachel Benson, who suggested making them more informative for youth practitioners. We had input and feedback all the way along from how we asked the questions to what to include in the final versions. We worked together from the very beginning before we had even won the funding, which was really important in terms of everyone having a say in the purpose of the project.

We want to know what you think

We would now like to invite all our guests attending the event on October 6th to write their own blog and share their own thoughts and perspectives on the issues raised by the EU Referendum. You could talk about the films, the research findings, the event itself, or your broader views on how and why young people engaged as they did with the referendum campaigns, and what the result of the referendum means for the future of young people’s engagement with politics in the UK. It’s up to you! If you’re interested, you can let us know on the day, or drop us an email.

About The Project:

The ‘Should we stay or should we go: Young People and the EU Referendum’ project is a study of young people’s attitudes towards and engagement with the EU referendum campaign. Using data from a dedicated UK-wide survey of under 30s and a wide range of publicly available data and academic research we will address four key themes.

For more information go to