There’s a famous passage in the New Testament, in which Jesus reflects that a prophet might well find it difficult to be heard on their own patch. This observation sprang to mind on hearing that both the IDYW cornerstones and our Story-Telling approach to unravelling the character of practice are at the heart of a new European publication looking at impact and evaluation. I’ll hand over to Bernard Davies, who coordinates our work on Story-Telling, to continue the tale.
Studying the Impact of International Youth Work – Towards developing an evaluation tool for youth centres reports on a research project funded by the European Erasmus + programme and carried out in Finland, Estonia and Slovenia. Written by Anu Gretschel, the senior researcher, in co-operation with academic and practitioner colleagues from all three of the participating countries, it has been published by the Helsinki: Finnish Youth Centres Association, the Finnish Youth Research Society and the Finnish Youth Research Network.
Particularly significant – and encouraging – for IDYW is the project’s development of the IDYW youth work story-telling process as one of its main research methods. To analyse the evidence coming out of the stories this generated, it then used a version of the IDYW Cornerstones of youth work practice which we subsequently revised to highlight the importance of giving attention to young people’s class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith. The report also includes references to our This is Youth Work stories book (now supplemented by the booklet of youth work stories produced by Warwickshire youth workers) and to the IDYW story-telling web resource.
For demonstrating open access youth work’s ‘impacts’ and ‘outcomes’, this international recognition of a qualitative ‘methodology’ like youth work story-telling and ‘measures’ such as the IDYW Cornerstones is welcome and indeed overdue. Statistical ‘tick boxing’, certainly in England, continues to obsess politicians, policy-makers and also many academics to the point where not only have their demands distorted how the practice is understood, but also how it is actually implemented. Those controlling the purse strings have ended up concluding that this practice cannot be supported because, against their narrowly defined criteria, it can’t prove its effectiveness.
Indeed, by using youth work story-telling in these ways, our European colleagues have done something which in IDYW we have talked about from time to time but not actually followed through in a systematic way. My experience has been that our primary focus in workshop groups has been to ‘unpack’ a story and the youth work process it exemplifies in order to prompt practitioners and students to identify what is distinctive about their practice. This, we hope, will help strengthen their identity as youth workers and enable them to become clearer and more robust in communicating its defining (and effective) features to significant audiences – not least those sceptical policy-makers. Though story-telling’s potential for demonstrating how the practice touches young people’s lives often becomes clear as a by-product, this has not been our priority – which for us gives this new report even greater significance.
Given how the researchers defined and applied some of the IDYW Cornerstones, the report also offers some challenging prompts for further discussion and debate within IDYW networks and indeed beyond on how we have been understanding and explaining these crucial signifiers of our practice.
The research is available as an e-book at http://www.snk.fi/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Studying-the-impact-of-international-youth-work.pdf
I’m sure both our Finnish friends and ourselves would welcome comments and criticism.