Youth work beyond the measurement imperative? Reflections on the Youth Investment Fund Learning Project from a critical friend
In this blog, which appears on the Centre for Youth Impact website, Tania de St Croix, Lecturer in the Sociology of Youth and Childhood at King’s College London and member of the IDYW Steering Group, offers her critical thoughts on the Youth Investment Fund Learning Project, which the Centre is leading with New Philanthropy Capital and others. You can find out more information on the YIF Learning Project at https://yiflearning.org.
Many involved in the youth work field are critical of the youth impact agenda, particularly its emphasis on the quantitative measurement of outcomes for individuals, and its neglect of process, group work, and structural inequalities. Those of us involved in ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ have argued that the contemporary emphasis on impact and outcomes cannot be separated from its context, the neoliberal ‘desire to financialise human existence’, and its consequences for which practices are valued and who gets to decide. We have claimed that open access youth work is particularly unsuited to outcomes-based management and that open youth work’s future existence is undermined by an emphasis on impact measurement.
So what? And what next?
The current approach to evaluating the Youth Investment Fund demonstrates thoughtfulness and attention to the special characteristics and challenges of open access youth work. As a result, the experiences of young people and youth workers funded by this scheme will be more meaningful and less onerous than they would have been under a more prescriptive top-down approach. The YIF Learning Project goes some way towards challenging dominant approaches to impact measurement. Yet in other ways it is reinforcing the status quo: continuing to prioritise the measurement of individual change, converting qualitative elements of youth work (its quality and young people’s experiences) into statistics, and aiming towards a financialised ‘value for money’ analysis.
Ultimately, without questioning the broader context – the basis on which measurement is still preferred by most funders and governments, as a neoliberal tool of governance and control – many of these problems remain intractable. Moving beyond such dilemmas, then, is not merely a matter of creating more congruent impact tools, reducing the data burden, and involving young people and practitioners in the process (important though all of these things are). It requires imagining meaningful evaluation beyond a focus on outcomes and measurement, thinking seriously about the social and political purpose of youth work, and the role of young people in creating change. It involves working with others – beyond the youth sector and beyond our national and regional borders – to challenge the global dominance of finance and investment logic in activities that hold to a different version of ‘value’. While such aspirations may seem momentous, there is nothing to stop us dreaming of a different world, and doing what we can to make it real in our everyday lives.
We hope very much you will read this important response in its entirety.
What is the Youth Investment Fund? – taken from the website with our link to the identity of the grantees being our only addition or comment.
The Youth Investment Fund is providing new opportunities for young people to get involved in their communities, support their personal development and get the skills and confidence they need to enter the workplace.
The fund is made up of £40 million of government and National Lottery funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Big Lottery Fund.
Funding has been awarded to 86 charity, voluntary and social enterprise groups in East London, Liverpool City Region, West Midlands, Tees Valley and Sunderland, Bristol & Somerset and Eastern Counties over the next three years – find here the names of those granted support.
It will create new youth clubs in rural areas, expand sports projects to build the confidence of young people encouraging them to get active and increase services providing support and guidance to young people.
The Youth Investment Learning Project will:
Design, pilot and implement new data collection approaches for open access youth provision
Develop a shared measurement framework and pilot associated outcomes measures.
Collect and collate data from the grantee organisations
Share learning and methodology
Report findings on ‘what works’ and the impact of open access youth services, including a process evaluation in years 2 and 3
Test the feasibility of approaches to understanding value for money in open access provision?
Provide tailored support and capacity building training to grantees in order to embed impact evaluation within ongoing youth work practice.
The names of the partners to CYI and NPC in the project can be found here.