This blog is written by Bethia McNeil, our Chief Executive. In it, Bethia explores what the five year anniversary means to her in terms of the shifting the nature of enquiry, practice development, and debate within the sector. She also sets out the key questions we will be asking at our conference in November.
The Centre for Youth Impact celebrated its fifth birthday last month – and, having been around since the start, I also celebrated a personal five-year milestone. It all feels quite significant. Five years is a long time – and, whilst the intervening period has gone quickly, 2014 feels very distant now, like a different place altogether.
That said, I am feeling mainly contemplative, rather than celebratory. The past five years have been the steepest learning curve of my life, and I still feel like we’re in the foothills, albeit in a pretty good place to pause, catch our breath and survey the landscape. Our journey in the last five years has brought us to a place that I didn’t expect to be, but it feels like an exciting one, with some important ideas and plans coming together.
The Centre was founded on the belief that all of us involved in designing, delivering, funding, commissioning and evaluating youth work and provision for young people need to think and behave differently in relation to evaluation and impact measurement. Five years on, I feel this even more strongly. This is a deeply, profoundly human enquiry.
We believe that thinking and behaving differently includes embedded evaluation methods that enhance relationships and go with the grain of provision, focusing on the principles of shared measurement and open data, valuing process as much as outcomes, and prioritising actionable insight for improvement rather than proof of ‘what works’. Much of our work so far has necessarily involved understanding the past and the present, including context, emotions, theory and practice. All these things have inevitably shifted over the past five years, as has my own thinking and understanding – in every way. Many welcome new voices have entered the debate, some ideas have grown in prominence and others have faded away. Equally, much has stayed the same – old tensions remain, as do systems and structures that hold the challenges in place.
In my recent reflections, I’ve really noticed that some of the questions we were focused on at the start have become less relevant. It’s less that we found the answers, and more that those questions no longer seem like the most important things to ask. At the same time, new questions have emerged. Sometimes this has felt overwhelming (oh no, not more questions!); at other times reassuring. We’re honing in on the questions that really matter now.
This year’s annual Gathering is a welcome opportunity to bring some of these themes together. It’s not a retrospective – that feels premature and far too self-indulgent – but it is an attempt to draw together some strands and take stock of the influences framing our future vision.
The agenda for the conference day is structured around three key questions that we keep circling back to, and feel fundamental to how we move forwards:
Our panels on the day will be focusing on these questions, and bringing different perspectives into the conversation. I’m excited to hear everyone’s thoughts.
Finally, this year’s conference feels significant because, in response to feedback, we have also changed the structure: we’re focusing the entire conference day on plenaries, to allow time to hear from more speakers in longer sessions. We’ve lengthened the breaks to provide more time for networking. We’ve also moved the workshop sessions to a separate day, being held before the main conference, and focused specifically on practical content– this day has already sold out, so it appears we’re somewhere on the right track.
I look forward to seeing you at the conference!
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