Talking about Impact : Story-Telling does the Business

Paula Connaughton from the University of Bolton  and the IDYW Steering Group  explores once more the positive impact of our Story Telling Workshop initiative, in this particular case facilitated by her, Bernard Davies and Paul Hogan in Athlone, Ireland, an event arranged by Youth Officers from the Education and Training Board (ETB).

Athlone 1

BACKGROUND

Over two days there were three programmes with each one consisting of introductions, workshops and debriefings with over 50 participants, including Youth Officers, paid youth workers, and volunteers; the first day scheduled for paid workers and the second day for volunteers. Over the course of these two days, it emerged that a number of the Youth Officers were aware of IDYW storytelling workshops held by Bernard Davies in Limerick, and some participants were familiar with the web-resource on storytelling. Organiser, Michael Kelly, Youth Officer for Galway Roscommon ETB, contacted Bernard Davies to arrange an IDYW visit to Athlone. During initial conversations, it was clear there were challenges to youth work similar to that in the UK, and that IDYW storytelling workshops would help Youth Officers in supporting youth workers to not only understand the process of the work they do, but would also provide them with an alternative means of evidencing work. This was particularly evident when we received the National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) document s – one for paid workers and for voluntary leaders – so that we could gain a sense of what participants might refer to during the workshops. Indeed, from day one participants, paid and unpaid workers, discussed the strain of evidencing core NQSF principles.

PREPARATION

At the request of Youth Officers, we had prepared our own personal youth work stories as introductions to both days, as Michael Kelly explained, participants would be interested in facilitators own backgrounds and their feelings about youth work. This proved to be a worthy addition to the IDYW usual programme, as Youth Officers commented.

‘The training was excellent, facilitators related very well to participants by sharing their own stories so openly and truthfully’

‘I thought the introductions and stories from the three facilitators were excellent – very informative, honest and set the scene for the training workshop’

AIM

On the morning of day one, participants were placed in one of three groups, as facilitators were running workshops simultaneously. The storytelling followed the usual IDYW format with participants reading through the IDYW ‘cornerstones’, before going onto describe an example of their practice which represented them practising as a youth worker, and subsequently ‘unpicking’ a chosen story. As is not unusual in these sessions, group members at times needed to be encouraged to go beyond seeking background information or linking the practice example to wider youth work issues and concentrate on digging deep into its processes in order to clarify how and why it was distinctively youth work.

Athlone2

During the debriefing session, all participants from the three groups discussed ways to use the storytelling technique in their workplaces with an agreement that the ‘who, why, where, what and how’ questions would support workers in their reflective practice, and that the cornerstones would help them to identify the process of their work.Youth Officers also discussed how using the storytelling technique would help them to support youth workers in exploring and demonstrating outcomes, and provide a means of evidencing good youth work with plenty of scope to document indicators and evidence of NQSF.

Another feature of the event was a request that the afternoon programme should not only entail going through the story telling process itself, but should be opportunity for participants to take on the role of facilitators themselves.As it turned out there was low take-up of volunteers for the facilitation role, and perhaps related to this was the topic of barriers to facilitation which emerged during the debriefing session when participants discussed the need for facilitator training, and acknowledgement of dedicated effort to make it work in practise.However, rather than bemoan a lack of power and ability to facilitate workshops or evidence practice using stories, the group remained convinced that whilst evidencing outcomes will continue to include quantitative methods, there was also a need for storytelling as an additional means of supporting funding bids.Indeed, as IDYW facilitators we noted how the excellent discussions and conversations produced a ‘can do’ ambience amongst paid workers attending day one, that paved the way for discussing how Youth Officers could train workers to start using storytelling as a way of capturing stories.These reflected participants’ evaluations that IDYW workshops were valuable in themselves because of the participative nature to training workers, which gave opportunity to hear other workers’ stories and perspectives on particular issues, while learning how to ‘unpick’ a story so that they could try to explore doing so in their own organisation.

A further feature of the IDYW storytelling workshops formed part of the third programme, where volunteers attended a separate event.Discussions with Youth Officers during the previous day highlighted that volunteers were equally responsible for evidencing practice for meeting NQSF indicators. As facilitators, we were concerned that the volunteers would have a mix of experiences and awareness of youth work that could affect the storytelling process, so we dedicated more time to covering the cornerstones prior to the workshop.However, our concerns were largely incorrect as the workshops reflected the wealth of experience, knowledge and experience of volunteers.The chosen story of the storytelling workshop that I was facilitating included the words ‘lack of young people aged 15 and upwards coming to the youth club’ – a situation that many open-access facilities are facing.This prompted a discussion of practice that enabled participants to ‘unpick’ the story and consider barriers to participation amongst this age group, the basis of starting in the ‘here and now’, listening and responding to young people’s interests over workers’ perceptions of young peoples’ needs, and use of informal education.Eventually discussions progressed onto some specifics of challenging colleagues not open to constructive criticism on bad practice, and a need to demonstrate moral courage.One Youth Officer observing these workshops with volunteers reflected:

‘what I took from the sessions with the volunteers, was the realisation it awoke in them the value of their work and the importance of verbalising the skill sets they employed without even being conscious of it. I could see their confidence rising as the session wore on.’

As IDYW facilitators, we also observed that volunteers attending day two were upbeat about being involved in storytelling workshops, though they were less confident about going back into practice and practising with their colleagues. However, Youth Officers, further demonstrating the possibility of [re]invigorating the opportunity to practise facilitating workshops, spoke about running training for volunteers in their own organisations.As noted by one volunteer,

‘The process was new to me. Very often on training days we would work from guidelines/good practice which would spread to tales, this was the opposite and worked far better.’

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