Albanians in and from Albania have long, and often stereotypically, been associated with serious organised crime. In the UK, media and policy attention peaked from late 2022 in relation to irregular migration concerns. However, little attention has been paid to understanding the risks and vulnerabilities affecting Albanian children and young people in Albania itself.

There is limited information about how risks of serious organised crime and their causes are perceived, experienced, and responded to by those exposed to such risks at home and by those around them. However, such understanding seems crucial to support the development of sustainable means of protection and prevention in Albania.

Some of the SOUNDS project team Members of the SOUNDS research team - Idila, Emily, Arnold, Mark, and Stephanie.

In 2021, Palladium International Ltd, Bournemouth University (together with a colleague from the University of Bristol), Sustainable Criminal Justice Solutions and the Child Rights Centre Albania (CRCA) joined forces in a Prevent project funded by the UK government. This aimed at preventing young Albanians' criminal exploitation and enabling alternative pathways with an array of interventions targeting local communities in Albania which previous research had identified as areas of heightened risks: the cities of Kukës, Shkodër, and Elbasan.

This international collaboration has been implemented and led by Albanian experts and colleagues in Tirana, Albania, and has since become known as RAYS (Reconnecting Albanian Youth and Society).

Using music to understand and engage 

SOUNDS is the Bournemouth University-led academic research component of RAYS, which includes collaboration with the University of Bristol. It sits aside a wide range of RAYS’ and its partners’ intervention activities, such as introducing a MASH (‘multi-agency safeguarding hub’) approach to relevant institutions and stakeholders in Albania. Based on an ethos of both listening and co-creation, SOUNDS uses innovative, music-based methods with the following overarching aims:

  1. Generating a baseline understanding - based on local and subjective perspectives and understandings of those directly affected in and from the target areas - of the causes, contexts and experiences which lead young Albanians to end up in exploitative situations, as the basis from which to develop meaningful practice interventions.
  2. Piloting an array of participatory, music-based research activities that engaged young Albanians’ interests to enable those considered at risk to tell their stories and reflect on their lives. In the Creating Soundscapes and Lyrics & Beat Making workshops young people were encouraged to co-research their history and society; develop critical voice and imagine alternative futures.

  3. Engaging in knowledge exchange and ToT (‘training of trainers’) activities with local and project partners; and provide practice guidance (including practice manuals) to ensure sustainability of learning beyond the duration of the project.

Participant in the Creating Soundscapes workshop, aged 16.

This is how we can do something good for ourselves and we can also pass this message to the community.

Gaining new insights

The project developed new insights about local knowledge, perceptions and attitudes relating to crime and exploitation risks, including those relating to nesting, country-internal structures of exclusion. It identified vulnerabilities such as adverse childhood experiences which are not dissimilar from those found in the UK yet situated in culturally and socially specific ways. Findings include several unexpected and novel insights presented in the project’s Working Papers upon project conclusion in March 2023. The Working Papers also document existing local protection and support structures; and demonstrate the ways in which music can serve as a feasible engagement and intervention tool. 

The research involved a wide array of baseline investigations, literature review, and participatory action research, including: 

  • Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with young people considered at risk, their parents or carers (including mixed and women-only groups) and with the wider community, including local teachers and youth work professionals; as well as comprehensive, NVivo-led data and discourse analysis (Working Paper 1, pdf 5.4MB

  • Music Elicitation interviews with men in prison and under community supervision by the Probation service; as well as the development of a bespoke training handbook and in-person training of Albanian teachers, social workers, and youth workers in this deep listening method, which was monitored during a 6-month intervention pilot. (Working Paper 2, pdf 1.6MB

  • Participatory-music based action research piloting a new change theory (see FAM-Strategy poster, pdf 527MB). This was based on two case studies, including the Creating Soundscapes (Working Paper 3) and Lyrics & Beats Making workshops (Working Paper 4, pdf 1.8MB).


Project outcomes

This project was the first to introduce egalitarian and co-creative, music-based methods – combining music elicitation, soundscape composition and lyrics/beat making – to research and youth work practice aimed at better understanding the causes underpinning criminal exploitation risks and pathways into crime in Albania; as well as strengthening resilience among young people considered at risk in the target regions.

Participants in the beats and lyric making workshop sat around a table Participants in the Beats and Lyric Making Workshop in Kukës, Albania

The project set a precedent for new ways of incorporating co-creative, academic, participatory arts-based action research into an international development collaboration project to shape sustainable and meaningful intervention activities.

Research results, including findings such as the effects of nesting, internal structures of marginalisation and exclusion, and of specifically-situated, adverse childhood experiences, hold a strong potential for policy change and public debate in Albania.

The project delivered successful methodological pilots for methods adapted to a new context, namely music elicitation, soundscape production, and lyrics/beat-making. Adaptations included the involvement of groups rather than individual participants in music elicitation interviews in prison, and conducting such interviews in the community with former offenders in urban Albanian contexts; applying soundscape composition and lyrics/beat-making workshops to working with young people considered at risk in marginalised contexts in Albania, and towards developing creative and critical thinking (piloting the FAM-Strategy).

In exploring how the arts can support individual or social change, both, in and for, young people considered at risks; and with those meant to support them, the project introduced a new change theory (FAM-Strategy). This theoretical development facilitates the design, implementation and evaluation of cognitive change projects based on the arts and is now being taken forward to wider applications by Bournemouth University in line with the university’s Fusion concept of linking research, education, and professional practice (workshops and academic papers forthcoming).

The young participants involved expressed great satisfaction with the work conducted and desire for such activities to continue. Workshop evaluations suggested changed awareness and mindset, and newly won confidence in imagining different futures and making their critical voices heard. 

The development of the imagination and the way we transmit and express an opinion is an advantage. It is also a new way of communicating" 

Soundscapes workshop participant, aged 16

Albanian youth workers, pedagogues, therapists, and leaders of non-governmental organisations working with children and young people, clearly indicated their willingness to adopt the new methods for co-creative and egalitarian engagement methods with young people considered at risk in their professional practice.

I liked very much the power and impact of music elicitation to create a collaborative working environment with marginalized groups"

Music elicitation training participant

RAYS was able to follow up learning by offering further workshops (e.g. a hip-hop workshop in Tirana), yet given funding limitations, hope for sustainability rests in the training-of-trainers conducted and manuals produced across all methods of youth engagement as piloted in Albania.