Engaging Critically – The Transatlantic Conversation must continue far and wide

A TRANSATLANTIC CONVERSATION with DANA FUSCO

JUNE 19, UNISON CENTRE, EUSTON ROAD, LONDON

Twenty people attended this event, one of the IDYW’ ‘Engaging Critically’ series of seminars, at a venue generously made available by Unison.

The opening small group discussions gave participants a chance to share where they were starting from for the afternoon. Perhaps inevitable in the present circumstances, these produced some doom and gloom stories – about for example threats to long established youth and community work courses, disregard for qualifications, ‘a lack of value being placed on the work’ and pressures from funders to conform to safe agendas and ways of working. However encouraging examples were also given at more than one table of the survival and indeed vigour of some innovative and relevant youth work, albeit, as one person put it, ‘at the fringes’.

Dana Fusco – a professor at New York City University who for the past twenty years has researched youth development and after-school intervention – built from these starting points. While recognising significant differences in the US and UK situations, her wider context included scepticism about youth work as a profession and her preference for seeing it as ‘a field’ capable of asserting a cohesive view of itself and a unified voice. In the space such youth work could create, young people would be welcome ‘just because they are young people’, would therefore be seen and treated in holistic ways and so would have opportunities to be ‘active curators in their own lives’. For Dana, it was therefore vital that youth workers found ways of demonstrating more complex and nuanced forms of accountability, going well beyond the ‘simple maths’ so often imposed by funders and giving priority to describing rather than measuring.

Her input prompted a wide-ranging, penetrating and very energetic dialogue, particularly on ‘outcomes’ – on whether for example it is necessary for youth workers to demonstrate what they have achieved, if so how and whether this can be done in ways which support and certainly don’t undermine the integrity of the youth work process and how funders can be persuaded to take on these alternative perspectives on evaluation.

Two practical suggestions for IDYW came out of the session:

  1. For the people who came to look for ways of drawing more of their colleagues into IDYW-type events in their own areas.

  2. For IDYW to set up an event for funders and practitioners for sharing experiences and ideas on how youth work can best be evaluated.

Thanks to Bernard Davies and Sue Atkins for the report and photos

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Sadly Dana Fusco had to leave the seminar early because of a family bereavement. Our thoughts go with her, her family and friends.

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