In this blog, Bethia McNeil, Director of the Centre explores the seeming disconnect between evidence and learning.
The debate between whether proving or improving should be the focus of evaluation is a particularly live one. The underlying suggestion is that we all – obviously - want to improve rather than prove, given half a chance. But improving provision is intentional, and at its heart involves learning: not just the desire to learn but also the capacity and the feasibility.
This blog is a write up of a recent talk I gave at an event where I was asked to talk about why we might not be learning from our evaluation and impact measurement activity.
It is perhaps odd, maybe contentious, to suggest that we – those of us involved in the broad range of provision for young people – have arrived as a point where evaluation is disconnected from learning, but I believe this might just be the case. It has become something of a cliché to talk about a shift from proving to improving, but this is overly simplistic. It suggests that there is an either/or choice, and that the two might be mutually exclusive. It also creates a reassuring sense that all we need to do to refocus is to change our language. None of these things are true. Much of our evidence gathering effort is about decision making – this is the case whether we’re seeking to prove or improve – but again, making decisions implies that we are learning from and acting on the evidence that we gather.
There are three particular signs that I think suggest that evidence and learning are disconnected:
Firstly, that after many years’ effort in evidencing the impact of informal and non-formal learning, we are no further forward in coalescing around a shared evidence base that affords us a collective language in identifying, building on and advancing “the difference that makes the difference” – that is, the particular elements of effective practice in informal and non-formal provision, and the difference it creates, or contributes towards, in young people’s lives. This is particularly remarkable given the strong – and justified – complaints about the burden of impact measurement on providers, and the hours of effort expended. It also suggests that if indeed we have all been focused on proving over improving, then our bar has not been set very high.
Secondly, we have no sector-wide quality improvement effort, based on a shared understanding of what constitutes ‘quality’, its relationship with impact and how we know whether quality ‘is present’. We continue to advance an organisation by organisation approach that is designed to highlight and protect the uniqueness of each one’s work. We are nowhere near a scenario where we can say – individually or collectively – that because we do this, we can reliably predict that young people will experience that, and that these changes might be sustained into other contexts in their lives.
Thirdly, and finally, there continues to be a fundamental disconnect between the evidence we are gathering, and the act of ‘knowing’ about our work. We rightly prioritise the voices of young people, but seem to imply that our impact measurement practice is incompatible with this. We talk of the difficult trade-off between relevance and rigour. Why are the two apparently in conflict?
But my complaints come from a place that assumes that evidence gathering and evaluation should be about learning. What if they aren’t?
I think there are several reasons why we collect and collate evidence: PR and fundraising, accountability (to both our funders and to young people), and learning and improvement. There may be a few more too.
In an ideal world, these reasons would come together, rather than divide our efforts. But we are a long way away from that now. And where is the incentive to change? Culturally, we don’t have a clear blueprint or understanding of what it means to be a ‘learning organisation’ – and this goes so much further than the current fashion for talking openly about failure.
This is a blog about complaints, rather than solutions, so I am not offering any particular responses here. That will be the subject of a future piece.
A member of the audience for the talk I gave last week told me afterwards that I had made people ‘bristle’. Good, and let us now mount a defence, but not as individuals – as a collective.
Ed. - A version of this talk was originally given at a Generation Change/Step up to Serve roundtable on quality youth social action.
Nadia Zemouri and Sam Bell also attended the Portsmouth Social Action Conference and recorded their impressions of the events.
On the 16th Feburary 2017, Sam Bell and I attended a conference on Youth Social Action, held at Fratton Park football stadium in Portsmouth.
The day was overwhelming, discussing many different aspects of social action, from sharing good practice and forming relationships/networks to benefit young people from across the city. Unlike most conferences, the network of people involved were often unaware of each other’s existence and work. However, with slots in the programme designated purely for networking, organisations, both statutory and non-statutory, formed friendships that will, undoubtedly, lead to benefits for young people across Portsmouth and, arguably, the country.
The day started with several speeches, firstly Brian Bacher (Portsmouth Togethercoordinator), who introduced the key aims of the conference, highlighting the existing work that is being carried out and how to expand, continually improving upon work undertaken.
The conference aimed to bring together both young people from local schools/colleges and professionals in the youth work industry. This collaborative approach, with the aim of gathering a range of opinions from all ages and backgrounds, was incredibly useful in alleviating stereotypes and naivety and offered a whole new thinking aspect to many. He then introduced the six speakers who would form the panel for the Q&A discussion, alongside Steve Frampton MBE.
After a brief interval the crowd were split off into the first of their selected workshops to have a focused, in-depth discussion around key issues. The four workshops available to attend were: Benefits and barriers to young people getting involved in youth social action, Creating more opportunities for young people involved in volunteering and social action, Enabling more young people to make a difference across health & social care and Giving young people a voice.
In the workshop I attended - Enabling more young people to make a difference across health & social care - some of the delegates, representing the local NHS trust, were particularly interested in how to engage young people in the evaluation of NHS services within the area. They were unsure about how to go about involving young people; fortunately, opportunities arose for them to utilise experience, to which we contributed our own experiences along with our counterparts in the group discussion. The delegates from the NHS had several avenues to utilise/include young people in their research, thus ensuring a more accurate evaluation/reflection.
After the first workshop, everyone enjoyed a buffet lunch. The delegates were encouraged to network over the lunch period. Afterwards, the groups switched around so that everyone was in a different workshop. Along with the aforementioned intervals designated for networking, some VIP guests attended. Two Conservative MPs (both representing Portsmouth constituencies) gave their personal time to attend, speak and acknowledge the work from volunteers, organisations and charities from across their city.
The overwhelming consensus of the event appeared to be positive, with the young people wanting to engage further in youth social action and the professionals in attendance left with real food for thought on how to improve their current operations.
In this blog written for the Centre, Jack Welch, one of our Young Researchers, reports on his personal experiences from and thoughts on the Portsmouth Youth Social Action conference, held on 16 February, 2017.
Not so long ago, the mention of ‘social action’ in a voluntary context would generally be regarded as little else than another buzzword to be included as part of an already expansive collection.
That was my initial reaction, at least. Since the transition of government in 2010, we have already had ‘big society’, and, before that, ‘participation’. Priorities change, depending on the political weather. As with most opinions, they are open for change and reassessment, and youth social action, in particular, represents a wider umbrella term for all acts of activism in which young people can take part.
By the government’s own definition, from the Office of Civil Society, social action is:
‘… about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important in their communities.’
On the surface, it is vague as it needs to be. Social action manifests itself in the form of many aspects of community development, literally or more figuratively. From formal volunteering in an organisation to befriending and co-production, research has shown an upward trend in young people engaging in some kind of social action.
In the past two years alone, the #iWill Campaign, set up to help 60% of young people aged 10-20 become involved in social action by 2020, have calculated that 42% of 10-20 year olds have, at least, taken part in something ‘meaningful’ once in that last year. By most accounts, according to the data gathered, there is a marked benefit in terms of life satisfaction and increased resilience to challenges they might face in their lives.
Numbers are of little significance though, in proving impact, compared to witnessing the testimony and evidence of individuals themselves, which is why the Portsmouth Youth Social Action Conference made the personal value of social action a driving focus for its event. Hosted by Portsmouth Together, it was valuable to see a more equal balance of young people and professional attendees in the room for the day.
What was immediately striking, from the line-up of diverse speakers in the morning agenda, was just how commonplace certain terminology had become. As Steve Frampton, Principal of Portsmouth College, remarked, we are now in need of a ‘Curriculum for Life’ (more detail on its definition here) to ensure that social action can be embedded earlier on, through education. A campaign led by young people is now a movement across distinct sectors in society, especially education and voluntary.
Full-time volunteering, as presented by speakers on behalf of City Year, is another example of how young people are willing to commit to social action, in this case for at least a year of their lives. The evidence has already pushed government to pursue a review of how full-time volunteering can be given legal recognition in the UK. As highlighted by Deputy CEO of Step up to Serve (#iWill Campaign), Rania Marandos, there is, however, still a visible gap in the numbers of young people taking part in any kind of social action, let alone full-time, when compared from the most to the least affluent backgrounds (9% in 2016).
I was very interested to hear, in the course of the panel Q&A following individual presentations, a question raised by an audience member, about how disabled people can be engaged in social action. Most were giving encouraging overtures and their support to ensure those with additional requirements have the same level of access to take part but, as with employment, this is not always easy to put into practice and barriers are still to be overcome for all social action opportunities.
Within workshops, it was interesting to hear just how many attendees (who are not exclusively within youth sector provision) had heard of few or no examples of the benefits of youth social action. Good practice sharing is vital and a common aspiration to ensure there is greater success within the social action framework, but even for charities (as I was gathered from group discussions), this does not always present itself as we would like to believe. Additionally, many businesses and other organisations with a smaller capacity, who would like to take on more volunteers, are often limited in giving support and training to support those who could be engaged. For small institutions, such as local museums, who depend on volunteers, they are likely to lose out on this opportunity most.
For every barrier though, the benefits outweigh these recurring problems: inclusion, responsibility, empowerment and personal development prime examples of evidence of the strengths of social action.
Whether a revolution, or simply the next phase of enhancing our society, youth social action looks set to stay for the foreseeable future. While its benefits, which seem obvious, make it a worthy theme of development in the political spheres and beyond, it needs to find a way to serve a much wider group of beneficiaries and to be taken up by other than the usual suspects within the sector.
This is something of which the #iWill Campaign and other supporters are fully aware. For cities like Portsmouth, a good case study of social action taken seriously, cutbacks in public funds have meant its own youth projects have had to acclimatise to a less hospitable climate. While we may take these projects for granted, continued squeezing of resources will ultimately diminish the level of work able to be accomplished, regardless of the high ideals we place on its societal value.
It is time this imbalance was addressed.
In this piece for our November 2016 newsletter, Kenton Hall, Communications Officer for the Centre, offers his reflections on "proving" and "improving" and the questions this discussion have raised within the youth sector.
Imagine for a moment that you know nothing about working with young people.
For those who have dedicated their lives to the study and practice of supporting better outcomes for young people, this may seem an impossible leap to make. It is too much part of the fabric of who they are; they are confronted, day-to-day, by challenges both personal and procedural, by the dichotomy between the complexity of working with individuals and the minutiae of enabling the provision of this work.
And, most importantly, there are actual young people involved, whose lives and futures can be affected positively or negatively as a result of that work.
It is, therefore, easy to understand, in what must often feel like an all-consuming role, the temptation to take sides, to seek allies, to push back against anything that feels as though it conflicts with your core goals or appears to further politicise an already demanding mission.
Within the youth sector, this often flourishes in a sense of conflicting agendas, or in some cases, the feeling that such an agenda has been imposed: to satisfy funders, to conform to a “new” way of doing things or, worst of all, to undermine or discredit instinctive and professional approaches.
The idea that seems to cause the most consternation, in some circles, is that of “proving impact”.
In what can be highly pressurised conditions, does this feel like criticism? A suggestion that the work has not made a difference?
To which, it may seem a natural response to ask:
“Why am I being asked to prove it, when I could just be getting on with doing it?”
“Of course I can prove it. I already know the work makes a difference.”
Sometimes, the concern is more about whether anyone is listening.
It is difficult to imagine, at first glance, why anyone who works with young people would be averse to the idea of improving the offer they make to them, the support they provide.
And yet, under challenge, has it become the case that the need to prove, whether willingly or otherwise, has displaced the desire to improve?
And if the key problem is that terminology, and the ideology it reflects, are obscuring shared goals, preventing us from acknowledging and embracing them, then perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at both ideas with fresh eyes.
How would it look if we aligned “proving” and “improving” along an axis that, broadly, equated to the “head” versus the “heart”?
Let’s take the position that proving is often seen as an exercise, a way of satisfying, or convincing, those on whom practitioners, often grudgingly, rely for funding and resources to do the work about which they are passionate. They put their “heart” into the day-to-day work of relating, of listening, of supporting real life ‘outcomes’: an improved quality of life for the young people with whom they work.
Being asked to prove the benefits of what they’re doing, to measure and demonstrate the impact of their work, may feel like a distraction and an imposition: further time subtracted from a clock that already seems to be running too fast. For others, it is antithetical to their approach; it fundamentally undermines and interferes with their relationships with young people. It is a manifestation of a political climate that emphasises competition and austerity.
But the work is important; the proof should be obvious: what they do matters. They can see the things – feel the things – they are being asked to prove.
Those who work in impact measurement, on the other hand, might feel a similar frustration with the suspicion, in some quarters, of their work. They see, just as clearly, the necessity, with such important work, to be evaluate, to ask systematic questions, to understand what makes a difference and to whom. By being able to ‘prove’ the impact the work is having and, perhaps most importantly, by going through the process of considering what ‘proof’ might mean, then not only can organisations explore, question and reflect upon their inner certainty that a difference is being made but also upon where the work can be improved, even evolved, to better support young people.
And so, it may feel that the head is concerned that the heart will miss something vital.
What would happen, however, if we reversed these positions? If we considered “proving” as a function of the heart and “improving” as a function of the head?
Can impact truly be measured or outcomes demonstrated without an emotive component? Without the drive, the passion, to do the best for the young people with whom you work, can sufficient honesty being generated to identify flaws, identify approaches that do not achieve what was intended, to thoroughly investigate processes to ensure that they are fit for purpose?
Or could it be that this is the source of the resistance? Is there an element of fear in play when asked to prove something, a fear that admitting a need for improvement and the associated uncertainty would be, in essence, an admission of failure?
Anyone who has ever shared knowledge with someone else, whether in a group setting or one-to-one, knows that one of the subsidiary benefits is that in the act of communicating knowledge, we refresh our own, we sharpen our understanding of our own practice.
So, consider the process of ‘proving’ impact, of measuring and communicating that impact to others, as an act of sharing learning and insight. You may have to demonstrate the impact of your work for what appear to be procedural reasons – to funders, for instance – but is this not an opportunity, a means of helping them to understand what you do and why, and, in turn, reflecting yourself on what you do that ‘works’ and where you can improve?
Conversely, those focused on impact measurement, on processes, tools and methods by which this can be refined, made more reliable, made more robust – must never forget that the result for which they’re working is not better measurement, but better outcomes. The eventual target of improvement is the quality of the young people’s lives.
With that in mind, a different sort of rigour may be applied to the scientific and academic approaches by which tools are developed and processes honed. “Improving” with all its potentially ephemeral qualities becomes an essential factor in the work. “Proving” can no more be a means unto itself within the academic community than it can be for those working with directly with young people.
These are, however, simply thought experiments, designed to make us think about two broad and, seemingly, contradictory ideas from a different angle.
Is there really that marked a divide between the head and he heart, between “proving” and “improving”? Surely, as in life, to achieve all of which both are capable, they must work together in concert?
The head and the heart must be joined.
We prove because it offers the opportunity to improve in ways we may not have otherwise identified. We improve so that the act of proving becomes less of an onerous addition to our work and more an inherent component of it.
Obviously, in practice, it would be short-sighted to imagine that any division in practice is easily bridged. The head and heart are, too often, prone to conflict. But they are part of the same organism. They inform and feed each other. They must admit and understand the limitations of the other, in order for the body to function.
It is much the same with “proving” and “improving”. If we start from the assumption that we are all working towards the same goal albeit, at times, using different methods and following different paths, then the act of proving and the art of improving can serve most effectively in tandem, for the benefit of the young people with whom we work.
In this guest blog for the Centre, Dan Barton, Senior Area Youth Worker for Devon Youth Service discusses his experience of measuring evidence in youth work and the questions and thoughts it has inspired.
If you are reading this, the value of youth work is a subject about which you either already have a strong opinion, or genuine questions. It is certainly discussed regularly across the sector, with passionate arguments being made for a variety of positions.
Personally, I think that, for years, we have been guilty of searching for a “holy grail” of outcomes, a “silver bullet” that would, finally, solve the eternal mystery of why the value of this work is often undervalued outside of the sector.
Conversations about teenage pregnancy, anti-social behavior, employability and, increasingly, radicalisation and child sexual exploitation are commonplace; people want to believe that there is a place for youth work but are often unsure as to where that place lies, or what form it should take.
The following questions, therefore, are ones we all need to ask ourselves: What part do we have to play in these strategic objectives? How do we contribute to these outcomes?
How can we stop young people being a problem?
The at times controversial “P” word has been less explicit in recent years, but it remains an important part of the puzzle.
Simply put, I would argue that it is impossible to practice good youth work and not meet these outcomes, or contribute in our own small way (and it is sometimes a small way, something we all have to learn to accept as part of this journey.)
I was reflecting to my wife last week that I never have to challenge my colleagues about their behaviour. I never feel uncomfortable. I never feel threatened, for instance, bullied or undervalued. Their values are intrinsically linked to youth work – inclusion, diversity, honesty, respect and a real sense of optimism for young people. As a group, we seem to know instinctively that quality youth work has value. We are lucky enough to see evidence of it every day and luckier still to have confirmation from the young people themselves.
For example, I can’t get through a day at work without seeing at least two or three of the following things happening:
Young people being spoken to in a way that is absolutely without a power or status divide, aiding a sense of self-respect and the development of trusting relationships.
Young people being given their third or fourth chance, when they tell us stories of how they have been isolated from other areas of their lives (school, home, work), aiding the development of resilience, belief and self-worth.
Young people being challenged to be more than they ever thought they could be: in the language they use, how they treat others, and how they expected to be treated by others, nurturing respect and tolerance.
Young people being offered responsibility – real responsibility, such as allocating funding, making decisions that affect their communities, taking an active role in social action. This fosters a sense of belonging to society to as a whole and to their communities.
Young people turning to us daily when others have let them down in their hour of need and receiving support that helps to increase their sense of worth.
There are many more examples, of course, but the demands of a word count will stop me from rambling.
Yet, despite this seemingly definitive, real-world evidence, we must contend with words and phrases that seem to defy the demonstrated value: ‘austerity’, ‘tough choices’, ‘we can’t provide the gold standard anymore’ and ‘doing more with less’.
Of course, when money is tight, who is going to simply take our word for it when everyone else is talking about their value too, and when judgments are being made on a sweeping scale about services and the contributions they provide? Again, perhaps we have been caught reaching for the gold when a sufficient amount of silver would accomplish more: the thousands and thousands of small steps that young people make every week.
Can we prove that we have stopped a young couple become pregnant (or even judge conclusively that this would be a positive outcome)?
Can we prove that our intervention was responsible for young person X gaining employment?
Can we state empirically that we were responsible for young person Y being less at risk of being sexual exploited?
This would be particularly difficult.
That's where the Centre for Youth Impact and Project Oracle come into our story. They understand youth work; they understand the small steps we take in working with young people. Crucially, they have the ear of funders, commissioners and service directors (who are willing to learn) and others that so desperately need to understand the value of our work.
We designed our Theory of Change (no mean feat), we drew up our evaluation plan, we designed or adopted recording and measuring tools and we started to tell our story in a different way – our way. Our impact measurement practice now fits our work. Developing the voice of young people and ensuring that it is heard remains a core expectation of our youth work.
We just record it differently now, in a way that allows us to gather the statistics and qualitative data that are relevant to us. Pride amongst our staff team has, in turn, improved. We know that our work does change lives, a little bit at a time, and we are learning more about how that happens.
We especially enjoyed developing our Theory of Change (‘what we do and how we do it’ as the staff called it). We liked discovering how we make assumptions in our work and owning them – allowing ourselves to unpick what has previously been regarded as ‘given’ or ‘implicit’ in our practice: talking respectfully to a young person for example – something young people tell us is unusual, believe it or not!
Working through the Standards of Evidence validation process with Project Oracle was quick and painless. We heard great ideas about how to tweak our frameworks and were given some tools to get the desired effects. We also had some help with our evaluation plan, which was great – I got to role-play, challenging the staff with things like “so what?”, “who cares?”, and my personal favorite, “we can’t say we do it if we can’t prove it”. Fine tuning our outcomes framework, looking at what we can measure against each area, figuring out creative ways to evidence each statement was very enlightening and great to share with others. I believe we have a collective understanding now of the above and its helps staff to focus their efforts on specific tools rather than use a scattergun approach.
I would certainly recommend embarking on this journey to any organisation that works with young people. You owe it to our staff and to your young people to do all you can to make quality youth work sustainable.
With potential changes to how relationship education could be delivered in schools and Scotland taking the lead in the UK for putting youth work back on the map, there has never been a more opportune time to combat the frustration that many are feeling, by everyone within our sector grabbing a song sheet and singing to the same tune.
Dimitrios Tourountsis writes about his experiences and some of the challenges he faced as London Youth's Head of Learning.
his blog is written for those with a keen interest in understanding the principles and methods of implementing evidence-informed practice in the youth sector. Through my story I want to challenge you to consider equality of intelligence and complexity as the starting points in any efforts to evidence and understand the value of youth programmes. First though, I need to make an important disclaimer. My thinking is influenced by Rancière’s theory on equality as presented in his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1981), and Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s essay in a recent publication by Nesta and Palgrave (2015), New Frontiers in Social Innovation Research.
In a scene from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, robots capture Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect. Meanwhile, marketing people and shoe shops have conquered the world. “What’s the matter with him?” Dent asks about one person who is moaning. “Oh, his feet are the wrong size for his shoes,” snarls the marketing droid. In this throwaway remark, Douglas Adams captures a specific attitude and way of thinking. Fit the feet to the shoes, not the other way around. Take a manufactured or prescribed item and fit the human into it.
The above scene encapsulates the challenge I faced when I joined London Youth as its first Head of Learning. Back in 2013 the youth sector was already experiencing crippling funding cuts. Existing business models were obsolete, youth organisations were feeling disoriented, and practitioners were cynical. A number of sector-level initiatives were responding to the pessimism by setting out a collective and progressive approach to evidence, including publication of the Catalyst Youth Outcomes Framework and introduction of Project Oracle’s Standards of Evidence.
Nevertheless, fundamental questions remained unanswered and untested.
Where do humans fit into conversations around impact, evidence and outcomes? How can you reconcile two seemingly different worlds: an alienated sense of academic reality and the lived experience of practitioners? Is it worth applying complicated designs to complex issues? Are we developing evaluation frameworks and using measuring tools that don’t fit our feet? And if we all agree that it is really important to wear shoes that fit our feet, who has the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that the shoes are of the right size?
Equality of intelligence and understanding complexity were my guiding principles when changing London Youth and supporting practitioners, managers and funders to understand the value of youth programmes.
Equality of intelligenceLondon Youth began its adventures in the land of knowledge by engaging and asking practitioners about the value of their work in the manner of ordinary people rather than academics or scholars. By acknowledging his own ignorance, the Head of Learning refuses to assume the position of ‘knowledgeable expert’. He orchestrates an environment where knowledge about what works is the result of a collective learning exercise. The ignorant Head of Learning verifies the work of practitioners’ intelligence with attention and interrogation. He abandons the rhetoric of deficiency and expertise, listens to a youth practitioner or manager whose thinking might never have been valued before, and facilitates professional autonomy and intellectual growth in virtually unlimited directions. According to Rancière, “there is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another... whoever teaches without emancipating stultifies”.
Understanding complexityHowever, the ignorant Head of Learning needs a broad awareness when making choices. The youth sector is a complex rather than complicated system, and the the Head of Learning needs to know the difference between the two. He or she should know how parts of the system give rise to collective behaviours, understand indirect effects and how the system interacts with its environment. Pushing on the youth sector "here" often has effects "over there" because the parts are interdependent.
The scientific method and systematic experimentation are often viewed as designs borrowed from complicated systems (medicine, physics or engineering) and imposed from the top (government and funders) to complex systems (youth or social work and education).
The Head of Learning should find ways of utilising methodologies from complicated systems, and supporting practitioners to take ownership of them.
If we argue that societies and practitioners have the potential to be far more active agents of their own future than one assumes, then we should accept that systematic experimentation is a faster and far more robust way to solve complex problems than clever authorship of case studies, funding bids, press releases and campaign material.
Practitioners’ professional autonomy is strengthened when they are able to express scientific awareness of social and economic changes going on in the lives of young people, rather than falling back to anecdotes, hunches and political patronage. The ignorant Head of Learning ensures that robust experiments in the real world of youth work drive the development of new ideas.
The ignorant Head of Learning has followed the collective intelligence of London Youth’s practitioners and members by firmly believing that practice precedes theory.
He helps them to respond to complex issues by adapting to changes, improving practice, being accountable, and learning.
Adam Muirhead reviews the Storytelling in youth work website
Just a few months ago a new website was launched by the team at ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ which seeks to support the “capturing of our practice through a thought-out methodical approach” called ‘Storytelling in Youth Work’.
The initial idea of promoting storytelling for youth work came from a national IDYW conference in 2010 where the storytelling workshops prompted the book, ‘This is Youth Work: Stories from Practice’. The website has now been primarily developed as a resource for sharing the experience that has come from the workshops that the IDYW team have run.
The site gives a strong account of the benefits of using storytelling and for anyone interested in using their tried and tested workshops it offers support to replicate sessions, or indeed translate them for use in the work setting. They suggest it could be used in:
It is great to see the extolling of the benefits that come with developing strong narratives around youth work. It surely has a role to play in making the profession more robust in the face of the testing times that the austerity agenda has forced upon us.
There is an admission that the term ‘storytelling’ lends itself to a more quaint notion of fun anecdotes or to only capturing the best bits, to “uncritically embellish a worker’s or an organisation’s credentials” as they put it. In fact, the team have provided a good account of the limitations and caveats that come with the use of this methodology and hold it up for us to play with and find out about for ourselves. If you still have doubts then you will find it also provides solid case studies where youth work practice has been unpicked in order to highlight the skills involved and the unique nature of the educational processes at play.
I, for one, am very welcoming of this new site and the angle it offers on the impact measurement agenda. It’s my feeling that the idea of communicating youth work’s benefits through a narrative sits better at ease with workers than generating stats and figures and does more credit to youth work processes. And after all, when you consider that evidence is given to courts in the form of cross-examined stories – why wouldn’t this methodology be robust enough for youth work’s funders? Perhaps the bigger question here is: would funders and governments care to listen to our stories?
Find the site at http://story-tellinginyouthwork.com
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