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.