Authors: Neil Humphrey and the #BeeWell project team, Manchester Institute of Education

Beewell graphic - five young people stood together

#BeeWell is a programme that aims to make the wellbeing of young people everybody’s business. A central component of this is the #BeeWell survey, which is being completed annually by pupils in secondary schools across Greater Manchester (GM).  The research design includes a longitudinal element (tracking pupils from Year 8 to Year 10) and a cross-sectional element (annual survey of pupils in Year 10).  The survey focuses on domains of wellbeing (e.g. life satisfaction, optimism) and drivers of wellbeing (e.g. physical activity, bullying). 

We will link these data to information on pupil characteristics (e.g. ethnicity) shared by Local Authorities and/or schools. The results of the survey will help us to better understand the development and drivers of young people’s wellbeing. 

The data generated will feed into the development of resources and tools that will be embedded into the GM system to provide new and improved ways to support young people, creating the best conditions for them to thrive in every community, regardless of their background. In the first annual wave of data collection (Autumn 2021), responses to the #BeeWell survey were received from nearly 40,000 young people from 160 secondary schools across all 10 Local Authorities in GM.  

Applying open research practices

Co-production is central to #BeeWell, including (but not limited to):  

  • Our Youth Steering Group came up with our project name, designed the logo, and orchestrated our first annual celebration event (#BeeWell Day). As the first wave of data analysis takes place, they will be integral in identifying the most important findings in the results and what messages should be taken to policymakers; they will also have access to a budget to spend as they see fit in response to the data.  
  • The #BeeWell survey itself was the result of an extensive consultation process involving workshops with more than 150 young people in 15 different schools (including non-mainstream schools). Alongside this, a Questionnaire Advisory Group comprising academics, education and health professionals, and other stakeholders supported the project team in developing the scope and content of the survey. This was followed by formal review, feedback, and sign-off by a team of young advisors. 
  • The #BeeWell Young Researchers programme will introduce Year 10 pupils to the world of research, with a focus on wellbeing, while also inviting them to help shape and direct elements of the project analyses that are undertaken by the project team. 

Overcoming challenges

The rapid pace of the project – particularly in the survey design process – presented some challenges in terms of organising engagement events and activities, acting on the views expressed by young people and other stakeholders, and reporting back to these groups, often in a very short period of time.  Balancing the sometimes divergent views of different stakeholder groups was also difficult at times.  These challenges were overcome by drawing on additional budgeted resource to provide support during intense/busy periods, and through the leadership and excellent interpersonal and organisational skills of the project manager. 

Benefits of using these open research practices

Our use of co-production has  greatly increased the level of ‘buy in’ among our key stakeholder groups, who value our attempts to engage them as partners in the project design and delivery process.  This is particularly true in relation to those who are often marginalised or ‘side-lined’ in projects of this kind (e.g. young people and staff in non-mainstream school settings). Ultimately, co-production has significantly enhanced the social validity of our research as we know that we are measuring what matters to young people. 

Top tip

Genuine co-production requires significant advance planning and needs to be resourced properly, so build key activities into your project timeline and make sure that your budget includes provision for these.