We’ve tried something new.
At JRF we are exploring how to make greater contributions to the generation of better and timely insights on poverty, social and economic inequalities, by adopting an ‘infrastructure’ mindset.
One of the key aspects of our insight infrastructure’s proposition is to improve our knowledge and understanding of people and communities experiencing hardship, poverty, and related issues. This will help us generate and disseminate new and timely insights into the lives of those with direct experience of the issues we care about. To do this we need to learn about the issues they have identified themselves.
In this instance, by learning what people share about their experiences on social media.
How did we do it? The techy bit….
We commissioned CASM, the digital research team at the cross-party think tank Demos, to undertake this analysis. Online forums that had relevant and accessible data were identified, then with the help of JRF’s Grassroots Poverty Action Group (GPAG) and our Insight Infrastructure team, three forums were chosen. A combination of natural language processing approaches to identify broad themes, and close qualitative analysis were used to understand how people were talking about their experiences in these online forums.
So, what ARE people in poverty talking about online?
A wealth of issues are being discussed in the three forums. The most prominent findings can be grouped into four categories and more detail will be in the full report.
1. The emotional impact of hardship
Many people who are experiencing serious emotional distress turn to online forums for support. There is clearly a vicious cycle between emotional distress, mental health issues and hardship. People value the support of others on the forums (re-assuring, supportive and practical) but also talk about the importance of offline, in-person support.
2. The challenges navigating our social security system
Individuals’ lives and experiences are complex, multifaceted and don’t always fit into boxes. This can cause confusion, uncertainty, and errors being made. People find themselves needing support to understand ‘the system’ and what it means for them. They also need support outside of the social security system when it doesn’t work, or take into account personal circumstances such as health conditions or language that can make it hard for people to attend appointments in person.
3. The effect on and of relationships
People’s relationships are a key factor which can either exacerbate or support them through their experiences of hardship so can be highly complex and challenging. Relationships breaking down can lead to financial precarity. Discussions online show that this precarity is meaning that some people are having to stay in relationships when they do not want to, exacerbating the risks of toxic and harmful relationships.
4. How political systems are not addressing these issues well enough
There are real divisions over whether MPs can help, and many people feel that they are misrepresented in political and media discourse. Policy is generally seen as failing to meet people’s needs.
What is going to happen now?
We want this research to be used as effectively as possible by a wide range of users in a multitude of areas.
To this end, I will be explaining in a series of blogs how social media listening could be used by researchers to understand poverty, how charities and other third sector organisations can use these findings in their services, and how MPs, policy researchers and decision makers can use social media listening to inform policy.
I will share what we’ve learned from social media listening as part of a broader insights infrastructure and Demos will take you through the methodology they used to carry out the analysis in detail, which will help others interested in carrying out similar research.
We will also be inviting you to help shape this infrastructure, to discuss topics such as whether it would be useful to do this exercise regularly, and, if this was a continuous stream of work, what the best way to share it would be. This is just the beginning.
The full report will be published 28 September 2023. If you would like to find out more about our Insight & Infrastructure team, or this project in particular, please get in touch with [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected].