PARTISPACE – Spaces and Styles of Participation: challenging, must-read research

If heaven forbid, I was Youth Work’s Overlord I would issue an edict requiring all youth workers of a reflective persuasion to immerse themselves in this thought-provoking research. 

PARTISPACE – Spaces and Styles of Participation: Formal, non-formal and informal possibilities of young people’s participation in European cities

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To whet your appetite,

Summary of PARTISPACE outcomes

There is widespread concern across Europe about the future of democracy, and in particular about young people’s apparent failure to participate, often attributed to lack of motivation or capability. The PARTISPACE project shares the concern, but questions the diagnosis. It starts instead from an assumption that the dominant understanding of youth participation in research, policy and practice is too narrow, often limited to institutionalised forms of participation, and ignores much of what young people do in public space. This bias is related to structures of social inequality, and thus is itself a part of the problem of democracy.

PARTISPACE aims at a rethinking of youth participation by analysing what young people do in public space, what it means to them and to what extent this can be understood as political, civic and social. The research question is: How and where do young people participate, across social milieus and youth cultural scenes? What styles of participation do they prefer and develop – and in what spaces?

The project has undertaken a comparative mixed-method study in 8 cities across Europe: Bologna (IT), Frankfurt (DE), Gothenburg (SE), Eskisehir (TK), Manchester (UK), Plovdiv (BG), Rennes (FR), Zurich (CH). The design included reviews of national youth policies, a secondary analysis of survey data, and a critical discourse analysis of European policy documents. Then, qualitative local studies were conducted consisting of 188 expert interviews, 100 group discussions and 96 biographical interviews with young people as well as 48 ethnographic case studies of formal, non-formal and informal participatory settings. Additionally, 18 participatory action research projects have been conducted by and with young people.

Policy reviews, discourse analysis, secondary analysis of surveys and expert interviews confirm the dominance of a narrow understanding of participation. Group discussions with young people in contrast revealed that they are highly active in public spaces, yet in most cases in informal ways. They are busy with coping with their lives which are structured by pressure to succeed, precariousness and discrimination. In so much as these practices of coping involve public space, they include claims of being a part of, and taking part in, society. Therefore, they are referred to as everyday life participation and thus as political (as distinct from politics).

PARTISPACE has studied a diversity of practices, some of which are recognised as participation whilst others are not. We have analysed their relationships with local contexts, spaces, styles, biographies, and learning:

  • Local contexts differ according to socio-economic factors, discourses about youth, youth policy infrastructure and responsiveness, and youth discourses. Influence of national welfare systems is less direct, although regulation of access to education, welfare and good jobs affects social inclusion and citizenship. Where youth policies are most developed, forms of formal youth representation tend to be established. However, take-up tends to be low, they are criticised for tokenism and paternalism – aimed at forming ‘good’ citizens.
  • Social space structures young people’s practices, and young people’s practices structure social space. A key finding is that young people are active in appropriating public spaces, turning them into places that are meaningful for them, where they belong and feel they have control, which fit with their youth cultural styles, and where they feel safe. Appropriation involves exploration, conquering and defending spaces as well as ‘boundary’ work: inclusion/exclusion, insider/outsider, and relevance/irrelevance are constantly questioned, contested or confirmed.
  • Analysing young people’s styles of participation means asking not if and why young people participate, but how they participate in different ways, and noting the different and unequal recognition which different styles receive. Analysing differences in terms of (youth cultural) styles shows that not only forms but also issues matter. Young people participate only in ways that enable exploration of their individual and collective identities. However, there are also differences and distinctions reflecting social inequalities of life chances, risks, resources and recognition.
  • Young people’s participation biographies reveal that searching for recognition and belonging seems to be the most important motive to engage. In some cases, this is linked to coping with critical life events, problems with peers, experiences of injustice or lack of self-efficacy. Where and how young people participate depends on a complex interplay of factors in individual biographies. Positive experiences with formal institutions, especially school, seem to be a condition for involvement in formal participation, whilst most young people prefer informal settings.
  • The question of how young people learn to participate cannot be separated from the observation that across different contexts there is strong evidence of a ‘pedagogisation’ of youth participation: young people are being seen as not knowing or not wanting to participate and therefore needing education. There is little attention paid to structures of inequality and dominance or to young people’s competences and ideas. Rather than through teaching and training, participation is learned by doing. Adults can support this by recognising and offering young people dialogic reflection of their own activities in public space.

In sum, PARTISPACE findings point to the need to understand youth participation as relational (not individualised), based on experiences and relationships of recognition, as political (but not politics) and as often conflictual. Participation  is rooted in everyday life practices structured by social inequalities and dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion. It evolves in public spaces and thus includes claims to be a part of, and attempts to take part in, society.

Taking this into account, policy and practice can support youth participation by:

  • Shifting from inviting young people into formal participation to recognition of a diversity of practices in public space
  • Making youth policies responsive and reflexive while increasing and diversifying funding making it accessible for young people directly
  • Accepting and allowing for the enactment of conflicts as constitutive for participatory democracy
  • Democracy is learned by doing, adults and professionals can support this by recognition and dialogue but power and rights should not be made conditional on prior learning.Democratising school to turn it into a place of experience and recognition of participation rather than of mere citizenship teaching
  • Opening up public spaces for young people by providing additional spaces, accepting diverse use and appropriation of public spaces and giving access to abandoned spaces
  • Developing and securing a reliable and diverse youth work infrastructure providing open spaces which are not instrumentalised for school, employability and entrepreneurship
  • Addressing discrimination, inequality and precariousness by unconditional access to welfare, education and employment
  • Developing a (European) Charter of Youth Rights – understood as living document – as a platform both for the conflict and the recognition aspects of youth participation.

 

Late next year a book based on the research will be published, entitled, Contested Practices, Power and Pedagogies of Young People in Public Spaces: The Struggle for Participation
edited by Andreas Walther, Janet Batsleer, Patricia Loncle and Axel Pohl (Routledge)

 

Transformative Youth Work International Conference: Developing and Communicating Impact – Last chance for places!

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Transformative Youth Work International Conference: Developing and Communicating Impact
4-6 September 2018, University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth

Book before 22nd June 2018 to join the conference. Registration available via this link

This conference will specifically address the issue of outcomes and the impact of youth work. The conference, supported by Erasmus +, will bring together a range of experts from across Europe and the wider world, to showcase the latest research on the Impact of Youth Work, including publication of the Erasmus + funded 2 year comparative study of the Impact of Youth Work in UK, Finland, Estonia, Italy and France. Keynote confirmed as Professor Rob White from Tasmania University addressing: ‘Innovative Approaches to Transformative Youth Work Practice’. Over 70 non-UK participants have already booked incl. from Japan, Nepal, USA and New Zealand, so be sure to reserve your place before the final deadline of 22nd June 2018.

PS Tony Taylor of IDYW is a contributor on the panel at the end of the conference. Given his hostility to the neoliberal discourse of outcomes and impact, it will be interesting to see how his argument is received.

The Future of In Defence of Youth Work – steering group discussion, June 15

 

As most readers/supporters will recognise IDYW is very much a voluntary venture.  It relies on a few souls to maintain its organisational presence on the youth work scene. Without wanting to exaggerate my significance I have reached a moment when for personal reasons, I need to withdraw from my role as the IDYW coordinator. With this in mind, the IDYW steering group is meeting on Friday, June 15 in Manchester to explore the consequences of my decision, which has not been taken lightly.

For information, you will find below my report circulated to the steering group, which will be used to open the discussion. Obviously, we will report back to you on the outcome of our musings.

My experience of being the IDYW Coordinator

In the end, I’ve failed to quantify the privilege/burden of being the IDYW Coordinator across almost a decade. In addition, a couple of previous efforts to provide something useful for our discussion in Manchester on June 15 have foundered on my indulgent guilt about letting the side down by withdrawing from the role.

Before dealing with the three main areas – the website, social media and administration – it’s important to say something about the issues of time, capacity and energy, which govern how much any person[s] can give to the role. To offer but two examples from my experience.

  • Given I no longer sell my labour I have finished up in a position, whereby almost the first thing I do every day involves IDYW – switching on the computer, going to Gmail, Facebook, checking links etc.
  • I read rapidly, voraciously and, some might say, superficially. I write laboriously and, some might say, pretentiously, giving more weight to my words than they deserve, all the while typing with one finger!

Someone else might well be much more organised, efficient and innovative, provided circumstances allow.

The IDYW website

According to the statistics, in 2017 there were 24,000 visits and 48,928 views. Significantly many visitors found their way via search engines, where IDYW is prominent, because of the level of its activity. Facebook and Twitter are also prominent in guiding people to the site. Whilst the UK boasts the most views at roughly 75%, almost 20% emanate from the USA, Australia, Ireland, Canada and Belgium.

I think this data indicates the importance of posting regularly and interestingly to the website. Hence I have seen this as a priority, but, with the above caveats in mind, this is time-consuming.

The website has never generated ongoing debate through its Comments facility.

The Social Media [Facebook and Twitter]

As of May 27, the IDYW FB page has 3,677 members. Over the years it has grown to be, I believe, the most active and wide-ranging UK youth work discussion forum. Thus I feel obliged to enter its portals more or less every day – checking for new member requests, moderating [very rarely] posts, cross-referencing with the website, picking upon links posted by members and intervening myself in discussion threads.

This last point poses a contradiction. The FB page represents our best opportunity for a continuing dialogue with our readers/supporters, yet I have chastised the Steering Group [SG] with honourable exceptions for failing to grasp this opening. However, I suspect, the FB page would survive a lack of intervention from ourselves as it has morphed increasingly into being the place to go for advice on practice, to advertise projects and jobs etc. Our dilemma is that this pluralist shift risks the forum losing its grounding in the IDYW cornerstones, especially if the website was reduced in importance.

As a matter, of course, I link all website posts to Twitter, which, as we have seen, does generate traffic, but I only visit there a couple of times a week.

General Administration

This area of responsibility has fluctuated over the years and at the meeting we should visit our attempted division of labour to see how successful it has been. Without going into detail it has confirmed my sense that we need a named person, who retains an overview of what’s going on. In the past, I think my efforts to summarise where we’ve seemed up to ahead of SG meetings have been valuable.

As things stand I’m still the first port of call via email for anyone wanting to get in touch with IDYW. To repeat this very ordinary demand leads to the daily pressure to think about IDYW.

More broadly my identification as the IDYW coordinator has led to invitations to contribute in that role at national and International gatherings, for example, the forthcoming Transformative Youth Work conference in Plymouth. So too it has meant that I’ve scribbled with this head on, both individually and collaboratively over recent years, for example, the chapter, ‘The Impact of Neoliberalism upon the Character and Purpose of English Youth Work and Beyond’, written with Paula Connaughton, Tania de St Croix, Bernard Davies and Pauline Grace, to appear shortly in the Sage Handbook of Youth Work Practice.

For the moment I’ll circulate these thoughts as a first provisional assay into our debate. I would welcome questions, criticisms.

Tony Taylor

APPG Inquiry into Youth Work

IDYW encourages everyone to reply to this inquiry. We will submit a response grounded in the IDYW cornerstones and in our REVIVING YOUTH WORK AND REIMAGINING A YOUTH SERVICE : STARTING POINTS paper, which grew out of the series of ‘Is the Tide Turning?’ events and discussions at our 2018 national conference.

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NYA is pleased to open this All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into Youth Work

 

The National Youth Agency (NYA) is delighted to support the All Party Parliamentary Group for Youth Affairs (APPG) to lead a full national inquiry into youth work. The APPG Members of Parliament are inviting organisations from across England to submit evidence to the inquiry team, led by the NYA, to inform the analysis and findings of the inquiry. We aim to gather as much evidence as possible, from as many youth work projects, settings and practitioners as we can, as well as young people themselves. The NYA is grateful to the cross-party group of MP’s who will lead this inquiry and special thanks also to the APPG secretariat British Youth Council and YMCA England & Wales for supporting this endeavour.

Please promote this inquiry to help us gather a strong and robust evidence base for youth work and the impact it makes. This is a rare opportunity for the sector and we encourage all organisations and individuals in the sector to contribute.

Youth work can make a crucial difference to young people’s lives in their personal and social development. It can build their confidence and skills, promote equality, challenge discrimination, and champion the positive place for young people in society.

Please click here to download a printable brief.

Call for Evidence

NYA is collecting evidence from the sector to inform the following four questions until the 20th June 2018.

  1. What is the role of youth work in addressing the needs and opportunities for young people?
  2. Are the key issues and challenges faced by young people being addressed by current youth service provisions?
  3. Are there sufficient youth workers to support youth services and other delivery models for good quality youth work?
  4. What are the training and workforce development needs to secure and sustain youth work?

Nominate your youth work for a visit from MPs

As part of the consultation process, MPs will be visiting youth sector organisations/services nationwide.

IMPORTANT – to submit your evidence or to arrange a possible MP’s visit you will need to register with NYA and open an account – sort this out via https://nya.org.uk/appg-inquiry/

Frontier Trust Inclusion Statement

James Ballantyne informs us:

In one way this is ‘only’ a statement, but as a statement of intent, and making a position public, this is quite a stand by FYT as a faith-based organisation. I stand with them, and with the communities of people who have been oppressed by society, misunderstood and also received the same treatment by churches.

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NEW INCLUSION STATEMENT RELEASED

THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT WAS ADOPTED BY THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF FRONTIER YOUTH TRUST IN MAY 2018:

“Frontier Youth Trust is a home for pioneer youth work. We are a prophetic movement on the margins, calling and working for shalom in and through the lives of young people.

“Frontier Youth Trust is passionately committed to equality. As such, we will seek to embrace and champion those who are often marginalised in Christian communities and the wider world, regardless of economic power, age, gender, gender identity, mental health, mental ability, physical ability, race or sexuality. As an organisation and a movement, we will be proactive in affirming all as fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

“We recognise that we don’t always get this right. We can be unaware of our own prejudices, and we have not always been vocal enough about the things we stand for. At such times we will humbly seek forgiveness, and seek to make right what has been wrong. We will work to eliminate discriminatory behaviour wherever it is found and educate those who show prejudice, as we pursue a better world for young people.”

The Ten Minute Bill and a problematic PMQ?

 

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I’m probably illustrating how out of touch I am, but I continue to disagree with the line taken by Lloyd in his question to Teresa May. Arguing for a Youth Service on the grounds that an alarming number of young people have felt suicidal or that knife and gang crime is rising does not offer, in my opinion, a convincing and sustainable basis for renewing universal, open access, informal education provision, which remains valuable in its own right, whilst being humble about its part in tackling social dilemmas rooted deeply in an alienating and exploitative society.

Ironically May’s weak response would have been rendered even weaker if Lloyd had at least mentioned the precarious future visited upon young people by the Tories’ policies.

 

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

Q7. Last year, a quarter of young people thought about suicide, and one in nine attempted suicide. Young people are three times more likely to be lonely than older people. Knife crime is up, and gang crime is up. There are fewer opportunities for young people than ever before—68% of our youth services ​have been cut since 2010—with young people having nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to speak to. Is it now time for a statutory youth service, and will the Prime Minister support my ten-minute rule Bill after Prime Minister’s questions? [905633]

The Prime Minister
I think “Nice try” is the answer to the hon. Gentleman, but he said that there were fewer opportunities for young people here in this country. May I just point out to him the considerable improvement there has been in the opportunities for young people to get into work and the way in which we have seen youth unemployment coming down?

Some more photos from Facebook of the great turnout at the Palace of Varieties, to borrow a phrase from Denis Skinner.

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