Citizen Inquiry

Giving people and communities a voice

We are ensuring that people and communities, particularly those who are disadvantaged or disengaged, are enabled to have their voices heard about issues that are impacting upon their lives.


Giving young people a voice

Charlotte Dean is a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Hull, working closely with colleagues within the School of Education, including Kevin Burden, Professor of Educational Research and Director of Research and Dr Lisa Jones, Senior Lecturer. 

Charlotte is a professionally qualified youth worker and devotes her professional and much of her personal time to working with young people with the aim of exploring their lived experiences and ensuring that young people, particularly those who are disadvantaged or disengaged,  are enabled to have their voices heard about issues that are impacting upon their lives. Charlotte is currently working on several research projects which are co-created with young people and focus on a wide range of issues important to them, ranging from the issues surrounding the circular plastics economy to the experience of education for young people in care.


Plastic Citizen

Alongside her colleague Professor Kevin Burden, Charlotte has been using creative participatory research methods to encourage young people to explore and activate their role in the circular plastics economy. Part of the University of Hull’s Evolving a Circular Plastics Economy project, the “Plastic Citizen” project is working with 6 different groups of young people in informal and formal education settings, including schools, youth projects and the International Pupil Council. Each of the groups are working on their own research inquiry into how to encourage others to be aware of and actively engage with the circular plastics economy.

The University of Hull is one of a small handful of universities pushing the use of citizen inquiry with young people and the results of Charlotte’s work are already showing that young people are keen to play an important role in the circular plastics economy through designing products, educational resources and campaigns to educate and involve adults and young people alike.

One particularly notable aspect of the research has involved the International Pupil Council, a group made up of 30 young people aged 9-10 years old, from various primary schools across Hull. With this group, Charlotte has piloted an innovative Citizen Inquiry research project to find out about the knowledge and habits of the general public in Hull towards the circular plastics economy; the research was designed using the Open University's nquire online platform. 

The role of digital technology is an important aspect through which the young people are engaging with the project. Two of the groups are designing apps, supported by University of Hull digital media students. The apps are designed to educate and engage primary school children in the issues related to the circular plastics economy.

During the Covid-19 lockdown Charlotte and Kevin have been continuing to engage young people through a range of online blogs, resources and activities which are being supplied to schools and made available on the Plastic Citizen website and Twitter account.

Charlotte and Kevin are also planning a documentary film with local arts company My Pockets which will show the process through which the different youth groups have worked to produce their individual projects.

To facilitate the move to online working safely, Charlotte has created a Digital Safeguarding and Online Operation Protocol, which includes measures such as password protection and a moderated waiting room so adult group leaders and young people can be checked before they are allowed access.  The protocol also includes an international dimension for ensuring that online protocols can be adhered to when interacting with young people from other countries. This has been developed in line with guidelines and resources provided by the Council for International Schools and ACRO Criminal Records Office, a national police unit working for safer communities.

The Plastic Citizen project has also developed a strong link with schools and youth groups in Bremerhaven, Germany.  During a research visit in early 2020, supported by Professor of Comparative European Politics Professor Rudi Wurzel, several workshops with primary and secondary schools took place as well as meetings with the Bremerhaven Council for Climate Change and the Youth Climate Council (Jugundklimarat) in which young people’s approaches to the circular plastics economy were shared and discussed. 

Citizen Inquiry Exploration Project

Charlotte and Kevin are also working on the UKRI-funded Citizen Inquiry Exploration Project which is designed to establish Citizen Inquiry as a valid mode of enquiry through a series of workshops that bring together academics and local community stakeholders.  Following the first two workshops, potential Citizen Inquiry workstreams have kicked off with a range of public and community stakeholders including Hull City Council (HCC) Youth Development Services and Air Quality Department, Hull KR, Probe Ltd, Child Dynamix, the Goodwin Development Trust, Humber Learning Consortium and others. The project explores the barriers and challenges which hinder these groups from participating in traditional citizen science projects. It will then bring these groups together to facilitate their ability to use mobile research tools and associated digital technologies to undertake Citizen Inquiry projects in the local region. 

Just Like Our Lives

As a follow up to research by the University of Hull’s Social Justice and Inclusion Research Group into the educational experience of young people in care, Charlotte and colleague Lisa Jones commissioned an animated film to help educate teachers about some of the issues faced by young people in care. In the initial research project between East Riding Council Vulnerable Children in Education Team and the Children in Care Council, the young people highlighted a lack of understanding from teachers and other education staff about their experiences of education - specifically around how being looked after had affected them in school.  The film, which was co-created with the Children in Care Council, now gives these young people a voice, has had over 1700 views, and has been shortlisted for four international film festivals: the World Health Organisation Health for All Film Festival, the Scout Film Festival, the Making a Positive Difference Film Festival and the Lift Off Film Festival.


Charlotte’s work is making a strong impact on the lives of young people in the Hull and East Yorkshire area.  The Just Like Our Lives animated film describing the experiences in education of young people in care, in their own words, has been used by several educational organisations in their training programmes.   In addition, the Vulnerable Children in Education Team at East Riding of Yorkshire Council have adapted their practice further to the film and use it as part of their training for teachers/social workers and foster carers. The University of Hull also now use this as part of their initial teacher training programme.  All training workshop resources and activities have been created by the young people involved in the project and will be stored on the Just Like Our Lives Website for use by educators, social workers etc.

The online resources and activities are resonating well with the young people that Charlotte and Kevin are engaging with – including some young people who are disengaged with mainstream education.

The Digital Safeguarding Protocol has been adopted by Link Online Learners, a project set up by British Council Ambassador and CEO of Portland Education Alex Bell, as an online response to Covid-19, engaging 300 young people across 12 countries, sharing experiences, creating commonality.

The Citizen Inquiry Exploration Project will leverage the following future activities:

  • The activities will complement the existing Citizen Inquiry project (Plastic Citizen), providing evidence of what works, for whom and under what circumstances
  • The project will strengthen the ongoing outreach and engagement activities of the Evolving a Circular Plastics Economy project and also of the developing School of Education Participatory Research/Citizen Inquiry Centre 
  • The project will enable Charlotte and her colleagues to explore the applicability of the Citizen Inquiry methodology in other discipline areas beyond science/plastics, such as heritage, and other social science initiatives. 
  • Enhanced understanding and awareness about the efficacy of Citizen Inquiry initiatives and the use of mobile technologies will be used to demonstrate needs in forthcoming funding applications i.e. Nuffield project to develop a Centre for Creative Citizen Inquiry and Participatory Research within the University.


Giving young people a voice
These projects are co-created with young people and focus on a wide range of issues important to them, ranging from the issues surrounding the circular plastics economy to the experience of education for young people in care.

lead researchers

Dr Charlotte Dean

Professor Kevin Burden  

Dr Lisa Jones


Project funded by:



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