This news has been widely circulated at the beginning of this week. At first glance it might seem this is destined to be yet another apologetic for the status quo, for the instrumental focus on outcomes and impact. In fact there are real grounds for optimism that this research will be open and exploratory. Jon Ord, the leader of the project, is not afraid of courting controversy. Indeed he has explicitly challenged our emphasis on the primacy of the voluntary relationship in his ‘Thinking the Unthinkable : Youth Work without Voluntary Participation’ [Youth & Policy 103]. As for the agenda of outcomes the abstract of his article, ‘Aristotle’s Phronesis and Youth Work: Beyond Instrumentality’ illustrates his scepticism [Youth & Policy 112].
This paper attempts to address some of the fundamental problems which underlie current attempts to bring youth work to account. Firstly it is argued that the accountability agenda with its emphasis upon outcomes and outputs misunderstands the process by which they emerge. Rather than youth work being portrayed as a linear process it will be proposed that there is an indirect ‘incidental’ relationship between what youth workers do and the outcomes that emerge out of a process of engagement; such that simplistic accountability measures are inadequate. Secondly it is argued that given the essentially ‘moral’ nature of youth work interventions and the resulting outcomes, ie. whether their decisions and actions enable young people to live ‘good’ lives. We need to develop a methodology for youth work evaluation which reflects this. It will be suggested that much can be gained from an application of Aristotle’s concept of Phronesis, not least because of the importance placed on ‘context’.
None of this means that the research will come out on our side. What it does mean is that the research will not assume it knows the answers before asking the questions. Our understanding is that the project will culminate in a major international conference in July 2018. We certainly hope to be there.
GROUNDBREAKING EUROPEAN RESEARCH TO IMPROVE SERVICES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
The value and impact of Youth Work on the lives of young people will be investigated in the largest piece of research of its kind in Europe.
Researchers at the University of St Mark & St John, Plymouth, have received funding of 302,000 Euros to deliver the project from Erasmus Plus.
Leading the research, Dr Jon Ord, says it will demonstrate the positive impact of Youth Work and provide vital evidence needed to level the playing field of inequalities in Youth Work Services across Europe.
Dr Ord said: “This is the first research of its kind and will identify the authentic impact of Youth Work by really getting to the heart of what’s important to young people, in order to promote a service which is under threat.”
“The project will result in a multi-lingual, online open access learning resource to provide training and information for those in the sector. Data on the impact of youth work across Europe will be collated into an open access Ebook and will present research that Government policy makers cannot afford to ignore. “
“Youth Work services in the UK have been cut dramatically in recent years, but this is not the case everywhere. Some of our European partners invest significantly more in resources for training and expertise in their much larger youth services, and those countries reap positive intergenerational outcomes in their communities.”
In Helsinki with a population of 600,000 people, it has an annual budget of 33 million Euros for its Youth Service. Devon has a similar population with a budget which has shrunk from around £5.5m to around £1.75m.
The project will roll out the participative evaluation method, developed by Sue Cooper in her doctoral work, across the UK, France, Italy, Estonia and Finland. The method involves young people directly in the process of evaluation by asking them what difference Youth work has made to their lives; identifying what has been the most significant change throughout their engagement with services. The changes are expected to be many and varied and include changes in their outlook and aspiration, significant growth in confidence, as well as academic achievement, or gaining employment. It may also reflect the resolution of problems such as overcoming bereavement or an addiction.
Dr Jon Ord, Associate Professor at the University of St Mark & St John has worked for 20 years as a youth work practitioner and published ‘Critical Issues in Youth Work Management’ with Routledge in 2007, and ‘Youth Work Process, Product & Practice: Creating an authentic curriculum in work with young people.’ Lyme Regis: RHP.