Where Next for our Campaign? – Bernard Davies responds

Hopefully kicking off further debate, Bernard Davies responds to the discussion paper, Where Next for the IDYW Campaign?

WHERE NEXT FOR OUR CAMPAIGN?

SOME THOUGHTS FOR DEBATE

These comments on Tony’s very helpful paper are not offered as a criticism of it but as a – at some points tentative and uncertain – contribution to the debate which I know he is wanting to prompt within IDYW.

 

‘…our campaign emerged out of the chaos created by the banking crisis of 2008’

I don’t want to get nit-picky – my reaction is probably another sad sign of my obsessing about history! – but I do wonder about Tony’s reference to the campaign having ‘emerged out of the chaos created by the banking crisis of 2008’ (p1). I do not of course deny the huge and continuing impact of the crisis on youth work. Yet for me the phrasing here suggests both too direct a link between the crisis and the drafting and circulation of the IDYW open letter; and not a clear enough link with the reference in Tony’s next paragraph to New Labour’s targeted agenda. I raise this because, whatever the continuities, I see us now as in a domestic political climate which in key ways has moved on from when the campaign started. I also assume that over four years since then, new people will have become aware of IDYW whose potential identification with it will start from their field and practice experiences. To connect with these workers, I think we need to keep reminding ourselves and others that the main initial prompt for the campaign was the damage being done well before the economic crisis broke by the long New Labour managerialist assault on youth work as we conceptualised.

 

‘… perhaps we exaggerate the significance of the voluntary relationship?’

I approach this question with considerable trepidation as I have in the past been vociferous in my defence of young people’s voluntary participation as a – perhaps the – defining feature of youth work. At a Youth & Policy conference in Leeds some years ago I recall challenging Jon Ord when he questioned this view, partly on principle but also more pragmatically because I thought that opening up debate at that political moment offered too many hostages to fortune.

 

In fact, as set out in his book Jon makes a carefully argued and qualified case for a more nuanced position1. A more immediate issue for IDYW today however is, I believe, the link between this question on the continuing significance of the voluntary relationship and the one that ends Tony’s next section – on building relationships with youth workers across the ‘youth’ sector:

.. are we in danger of coming across as being precious about what constitutes youth work?’

 

With this in mind – hard though I find it to articulate it – I have to face the fact that, if the political bottom line I was defending in my debate with Jon hasn’t been entirely erased, it has certainly had to be crossed by many of our colleagues in the field who are now working in targeted settings often requiring young people’s attendance. I believe we certainly need to go on arguing strongly for open access youth work voluntarily chosen by young people. However, if we are also to pursue our aim of keeping (or remaking) connections with these workers – now seen as a priority for the campaign – a series of additional questions occur to me:

  • Do we now need to pay more attention to Jon’s original distinction between ‘attendance’ and ‘participation’ (what he calls ‘enabling young people to engage’) – including how the process from one to the other can be negotiated so that young people are enabled to regain as much power as possible with their involvement therefore becoming more ‘owned’ and self-motivated?
  • More specifically, as we review the ‘This is Youth Work book’ workshops, do we perhaps need to see this process and its negotiation as a relevant issue to be addressed?
  • Might this rethinking also help us do better in addressing point 5 (p5) in Tony’s ‘Organising ourselves’ section – encouraging and supporting more regional group activity?

 

‘… are we dismissing too lightly the pragmatic pressures on all those involved in an executive or senior management level?

I’m pleased Tony’s has raised this question because it’s one which for me has been lurking for some time – and perhaps hasn’t been addressed or even put into words because it touches some ‘anti-manager’ attitudes and feelings within the campaign. Some of these will of course be the direct result of bad experiences of being managed. Others will arise from the effects of the New Labour managerialist obstructions to the kinds of face-to-face work to which workers are committed.

 

I certainly accept, as Tony says, (p1), that there are managers (and they include senior managers) who have ‘allowed market ideology to prevail (and) have failed to encourage critical dialogue and reflection on its ramifications either at national or local level’. Yet – and here I am very conscious of writing as an ex-manager who is now anyway a long way from the front line – I suspect that as always the reality on the ground is quite complex and contradictory. For example:

  • I don’t think ‘management’ and ‘being managed’ can just be collapsed into notions of ‘managerialism’, neo-liberal or any other kind, as if by definition they’re just negative and unhelpful.
  • From personal contacts I am aware of managers who feel as trapped as face-to-face workers within managerialist structures and procedures (as well as, now, by the cuts) and are struggling to protect youth work as the campaign would understand it.
  • Within organisations where managerialism is the dominant mode of operation, there are likely to be some in (perhaps quite senior) management positions who are trying, often below the radar, to minimise the damage this is doing.

 

All of which leads me to ask therefore:

  • Do such contradictory situations exist within the voluntary sector – national and local?
  • In the new organisational landscape of statutory integrated ‘services for young people’ do such dedicated youth work managers still exist; and if so where?
  • Should the campaign be making more effort to identify, and identify with, these ‘in-and-against-the-organisation’ managers – and make clear that that is what it wishes to do?

 

All of which leads to three other thoughts related to the sub-section in Tony’s paper on ‘building relationships with youth organisations across the sector’.

  • Could the campaign offer a way for these managers to let off steam, even perhaps by acting as (anonymous) whistleblowers?!
  • Probably as an alternative, if, consciously and proactively, the campaign reached out to whatever diversity of managers may exist within these organisations, might that be a route to building those cross-sector relationships, even if they weren’t altogether ‘official’?
  • Might that in the long run help serve our aim of opening up an honest exchange on how we and these organisations assess the current state of youth work?

 

An Institute for Youth Work or an Institute for Work with Young People?

I accept Tony’s warning on this against ‘conflating youth work with the diversity of other forms of work with young people’ is an important – maybe even ‘our principal’ – concern (Tony’s paper, p3). I also fully support our agreement that this is an issue on which we should not be seeking a campaign consensus – not least because this doesn’t exist! However, for me and I know for others, there are other concerns which still need to be considered. Tony touches on some of these when he asks about the potential ‘impact upon the training agencies of the shifting landscape in terms of provision…Given the practical as well as ideological support IDYW has had from the training agencies – eg in promoting ‘book’ workshops – I see this wider debate as now needing to be opened up as soon as possible.

  • Perhaps this could happen as a session at our March national conference, structured to get a training agency perspective on the proposed IYW alongside a less ‘professional’ one from the field?

 

Bernard Davies

8 November 2012

1 Youth Work Process, Product and Practice, pp 58-62

One comment on “Where Next for our Campaign? – Bernard Davies responds

  1. peterc says:

    Lovely to meet old friends here…Hi Bernard!

    Fascinating discussion and yes Tony you are providing a rare space for us to shape our thinking where our hearts are not ruled by the end of year budgets.

    My work is national in Scotland where we have had huge changes to the youth work scene since the SNP came into power and turned the treatment of young people as problems into an early intervention evidence based nurture-fest….much of which is just great!

    Yet at the same time we have the demise of youth work as a recognised profession, the closure of some of our University youth work courses and the onward march of youth justice re-defining our work with young people.

    This is of course a tough environment but it is one ripe to hear our voice and one where in my view we have an opportunity to raise the quality of youth work that has too often been unaccountable and misunderstood by others.

    Those of us who sit back and claim the right not to engage in new ways and those of us who simply defend ‘pure’ youth work ….will struggle to survive.

    We have an opportunity to show that the quality of the youth work relationship with a young person can produce a more sustainable and successful future for that individual than other approaches.

    We have an opportunity to learn loads for our work about evaluation and measuring our impact…something we have been really poor at to date. (This is not the same thing as signing my soul away to outcomes)

    I find myself in an interesting place deep in relationship with organisations like the Young Foundation and Catch 22 where I am learning loads. Yet my youth workers heart remains strong and optimistic that we can produce a more robust and clearly understood youth work as we emerge from the clouds.

    To do this we need to engage more in the public conversation.

    To do this we need to allow some youth and community work to die and to recognise what is good and what is bad about commissioning, about new partner approaches and about outcomes.

    There is a huge opportunity here for voluntary sector youth work to shape and drive this new thinking as statutory youth work struggles to survive within the government machine.

    If anything we have a particular responsibility to enable this. Im up for it …are you?

    Thanks IDYW for the platform….its just a case of where do we go from here.

    Peter

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