Transformative Youth Work and Impact Evaluation – a contradiction in terms? A Challenging Conference tackled the tensions.

Transformative Youth Work International Conference

Developing and Communicating Impact – 4th September – 6th September, Plymouth Marjon University

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Rob White from the University of Tasmania opening the conference

I arrived in Plymouth, weary and a trifle sulky. A delayed flight, the teeming London hustle and bustle plus a tortuous journey on an ageing dysfunctional train, all seemed to add to my despond. Blaming neoliberalism didn’t seem to help much. However, in the early hours, my spirits arose, courtesy of a jovial and helpful night porter. The next morning witnessed the continuing revival of my demeanour as the student ambassadors, administrative and kitchen staff went out of their way to be hospitable. And, the conference itself, bringing together workers from across the globe,  proved to be challenging, critical and contradictory, but above all uplifting.

I won’t say much more as Jon Ord’s address below captures the atmosphere of the memorable proceedings. However, I hope, if the mood calls, to take up some of the issues emanating from the debates in future posts on my revived blog, Chatting Critically, including Tony Jeffs’ eloquent soliloquy on the demise of youth work in the UK.

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Jon Ord addresses the conference

Jon Ord, Associate Professor
University of St Mark & St John,

Apologies for not being able to bring myself together to make the closing address – I have found the experience of enabling such a rich and rewarding experience for so many people genuinely humbling and was more than a little overwhelmed… Below is what I wished to say:

Closing Address

I would like to say a few words to draw the conference to a close:

If I truly honest my best hope was that we averted a disaster… however, if I am to believe the kind words that many of you have shared with me over the last couple of days perhaps I can safely say it may have been somewhat of a success.

On more than the odd occasion, as some of you know, over the last year or so I had wished I had not had such a ‘bright idea’ but the feedback many of you have given me and seeing how much people seemed to have got out of meeting up here over the last few days it has genuinely made it all worthwhile – so I would sincerely like to thank you all for your involvement in the conference – in particular the spirit in which you have engaged in conversation and debate – it is you that have made it the success that it has been.

In particular, I would like thank to all those who have come from far and wide – here in the UK we really do not want to cut ourselves off from our neighbours and distant friends – despite what you may read and see… It is certainly the diversity of experiences in no small part that has enriched the 3 days.

I would also like to especially thank the speakers, chairs & panel members, there has been a really high standard of papers. And on that point, I would like to draw your attention to the possibility of submitting a paper for a special issue of a journal, either the Journal of Open Youth Work or the Journal of Applied Youth Studies.

On the subject of diversity of keynote speakers, I was left in an unfortunate position, as I approached seven people to speak at the conference – four women and three men. The four women all declined, so I was left with the three men. The original intention for the panel was two women and two men, one of the women could not be persuaded and was replaced by a man as he shared her perspective.

Two other points in terms of moving forward. Firstly given how much people seemed to have enjoyed the event it occurred to me that we may try and put on another event at some point – there no guarantees but it seems to be something that would be worth looking into.

Secondly, we have tried to capture all the talks on ‘Panopto’ (voice recording and slides) if this has been successful, we will firstly check if anyone objects to their talk being made public and then will upload them on to the post-conference website and it can then form a resource.

Finally please provide any feedback on the event directly to me at jord@marjon.ac.uk

By way of thanks, I would like to mention Clayton Thomas and Mercedes Farhad for their help with the programme, both of whom went the extra mile to produce such a high-quality programme – Mercedes even came in when she was ill and about to go on annual leave, to ensure we got it to the printers on time. I would also like to thank Mark Leather for sharing some of the lessons learnt from the hosting of the European Outdoor Education Seminar last year. Thank you also to the student ambassadors who have helped to ensure the smooth running of the conference and to catering for producing such fine ‘English’ fayre. I would also thank my Erasmus partners for their support.

There are two people who do however need special mention – firstly Tony Jeffs who has so generously shared the many years of experience that he and his colleagues Naomi Thomson, Tania de St Croix, Paula Connaughton and others at Youth & Policy have gleaned from organising and running conferences for many years – this event stands on both his and their shoulders.

One person needs singling out in particular however – for there is really only one person without whom this conference would never have taken place. It was somewhat foisted upon her and she had little say in whether she was to be involved. Furthermore, the timing was terrible as it clashed with the preparations for the biggest event of the year – graduation – however, she has always been 100% behind the project and does everything with a smile. Her attention to detail is exceptional, her organisational skills exemplary and as a colleague of mine Aaron Beacom said to me recently – she is totally unflappable. I would like you to show your warmest appreciation for Helen Thewliss.

I now declare this conference closed and wish you all a safe journey.

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The Impact of Youth Work in Europe: A Study of Five European Countries

This book is the culmination of an Erasmus+ funded project which aimed to independently identify the impact of youth work in the UK (England), Finland, Estonia, Italy and France. It applied a participatory evaluation methodology entitled ‘transformative evaluation’ which collated young people’s own accounts of the impact of youth work on their lives – collecting their stories. Over 700 stories were collected in total over a year-long process.

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Speakers from the five countries presenting the research findings to the conference

Find an e-book version of the study on this link

https://www.humak.fi/en/julkaisut/the-impact-of-youth-work-in-europe-a-study-of-five-european-countries/


 

Thanks to Stephen Dixon of Marjon for the photos.

Thinking seriously about youth work. And how to prepare people to do it – views from across Europe

Following on from our recent reference to Youth Work in the Commonwealth: A Growth Profession news from Europe of a challenging publication, ‘Thinking Seriously about Youth Work’, which houses over 37 thought-provoking chapters plus a compelling introduction and conclusion. As someone, who over the years has lost some of his faith in the power of the written word, a major concern is that this flood of diverse analysis will drown the potential reader’s interest before they even dip their toe into its contents. I hope my pessimism is misplaced. For now my favourite piece is ‘Youth work in Flanders – Playful usefulness and useful playfulness’ by Guy Redig and Filip Coussée, who, in suggesting that youth work is a necessary kind of wild zone and free space in society, crucial to democracy itself, note that,

Flanders youth work operates on the front line. The vast majority of (local) youth work can be described as intuitively hostile to demands for utility or instrumentalisation. At the same time, it has to survive the dominant discourse of using all resources – including youth work – for economic activation and adaptation in a neoliberal system. For the more pessimistic prophets, Flemish youth work can be classified as an anachronism close to extinction, soon to be replaced by professional, efficient and smooth concepts suited to multiple purposes. For other observers, the authenticity, autonomy and joie de vivre of Flemish youth work are unbeatable and will survive con brio. Youth work will survive, stubborn and petulant, peevish and cross, generation after generation.

The complete publication is available online via the following link.

 

Thinking seriously about youth work. And how to prepare people to do it

Hanjo Schild, Nuala Connolly, Francine Labadie, Jan Vanhee, Howard Williamson (eds.)                                                                                                                                                      

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If we consider the 50 states having ratified the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe or the member states of the European Union, the multiple and divergent nature of the realities, theories, concepts and strategies underlying the expression “youth work” becomes evident. Across Europe, youth work takes place in circumstances presenting enormous differences with regard to opportunities, support, structures, recognition and realities, and how it performs reflects the social, cultural, political and economic context and the value systems in which it is undertaken.

By analysing theories and concepts of youth work and by providing insight from various perspectives and geographical and professional backgrounds, the authors hope to further contribute to finding common ground for – and thus assure the quality of – youth work in general. Presenting its purified and essential concept is not the objective here. The focus rather is on describing how to “provide opportunities for all young people to shape their own futures”, as Peter Lauritzen described the fundamental mission of youth work.

The best way to do this remains an open question. This Youth Knowledge book tries to find some answers and strives to communicate the strengths, capacities and impact of youth work to those within the youth sector and those beyond, to those familiar with its concepts and those new to this field, all the while sharing practices and insights and encouraging further reflection.

 

Section I – Theories and concepts in selected European regions and countries includes:

Winning space, building bridges – What youth work is all about by Howard Williamson

Youth work and youth social work in Germany by Andreas Thimmel

Thinking about youth work in Ireland by Maurice Devlin

Influential theories and concepts in UK youth work – What’s going on in England? by Pauline Grace and Tony   Taylor

 

Section II – Key challenges of youth work today includes:

 Youth work and an internationally agreed definition of youth work – More than a tough job by Guy Redig

Keep calm and repeat – Youth work is not (unfortunately) just fun and games by Özgehan Şenyuva and Tomi   Kiilakoski

Young people, youth work and the digital world by Nuala Connolly

Youth radicalisation and the role of youth work in times of (in)security by Dora Giannaki

 

Section III – Reflections on the recommendations made in the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention includes:

 Further exploring the common ground – Some introductory remarks by Hanjo Schild

Towards knowledge-based youth work by Helmut Fennes

Funding sustainable youth work by Claudius Siebel

Youth work, cross-sectoral youth policy, and co-operation: critical reflections on a puzzling relationship by Magda Nico

 

 

 

 

Where is IDYW going? Where is the UK going?

EU referendum

It’s been a turbulent week. There’s been an IDW Steering Group meeting and a certain referendum. In the next day or two we’ll post a statement from the Steering Group, inviting criticisms and comments. As to the referendum and its unexpected outcome we’ll post a diversity of responses, enquiring in particular as to the content and character of your conversations with young people.

Watch this space.

GROUNDBREAKING EUROPEAN RESEARCH TO IMPROVE SERVICES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

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.

research

 

 

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. 

 

Kicking off in Vienna amidst the snow! Professional Open Youth Work network conference

We’re a bit confused, but that’s nothing new! We were about to do a post informing you that IDYW representatives were in Vienna attending the inaugural conference of the Professional Open Youth Work Network [POYWE]. Then, lo and behold, we find that there are live Facebook and Twitter feeds from the conference floor. Smart, except that we had no idea this would be the case. Now our Campaign has  contributed to the emergence of this event as a member of the embryo planning group, thus we are well interested in how it’s all working out.

So to follow what’s going on:

the web site – http://poywe.org/</a

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/professionalopenyouthworkeurope

Twitter – https://twitter.com/poywe

A key contribution on the first day was given by Sarah Banks of Durham University and a staunch supporter of our Campaign.