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


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.


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

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.


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.


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

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


Thanks to Stephen Dixon of Marjon for the photos.

Another Neo-Liberal Year Begins : Our Campaign Continues.

Courtesy of Steve ‘Bakunin’ Waterhouse, the Newtown Neurotics in around 1985, ‘scrounging, bunking, living with unemployment’!

In early 2009 the first draft of our Open Letter bewailing the state of youth work was circulated. Three years on the outlook worsens. Embracing New Labour’s obsession with targeting the ‘anti-social’ the Coalition’s dual approach is to cut drastically any money available for open, pluralist youth work, whilst seducing the opportunistic and naive into competing  for contracts to deliver its programmes of social control.  Against this behavioural backcloth our effort to play a part in the defence of  an emancipatory youth work practice, which refuses to blame the young victims of an exploitative and oppressive system, remains as relevant as ever. All is not gloom and we have been given a welcome boost by the positive response to the appearance of our This is Youth Work book/DVD. Already a number of  stimulating workshops building on its contents have been held. In the coming months we are looking to organise a series of gatherings involving students and youth workers, together with colleagues from other voluntary and statutory agencies, within which we wish to explore the contradictory questions raised by an honest appreciation of the mess we’re in. More information to follow.

As we have indicated in Where Are we up To?, we are very conscious of the inevitable differences of opinion and emphasis in our own ranks. Clearly these dilemmas need to be out in the open – hence our January workshops. So too we have no desire to exaggerate our own strength or importance. As is often the case a handful of people are keeping the show on the road. Yet we are encouraged by the positive messages of support we continue to receive. It does feel that we are contributing something distinctive and worth its salt.

Our struggle to defend a youth work, which ‘asks questions of Power’, cannot be divorced from the wider political struggle against the creeping authoritarianism of a political and economic elite, a ruling class indeed, which places its own survival above the needs of humanity world-wide. The following eclectic links observe and interpret this clash of interest in a diversity of ways. Much ‘manna’ for reflection.

On the broad front a rather parochial beginning, seeing Paul Mason, the BBC  Newsnight economics editor,  is from Leigh, my home town and we’ve known one another since the mid-80’s. an interview with him.

Economics has become about people and their troubles

And, another long-lost friend, Roy Ratcliffe, former Wigan youth worker and a  leading light in the 1980’s CYWU and now living in Leigh once more. offers a perhaps controversial reading of the present situation.

Finance, Fat-Cats and Fascism: Another Authoritarian Occupation in Europe?

The colourful ‘philosopher’ Slavoj Zizek believes that the current “system has lost its self-evidence, its automatic legitimacy, and now the field is open” and isn’t living in Leigh!

Capitalism with Asian values


Before we move closer to home, here in Greece an unelected, ‘technocratic’ government in the service of the Frankfurt Gang of Merkel/Sarkozy increase arbitrarily compulsory military service from 9 to 12 months. This is unlikely to go down well with Greek youth, but it might keep the 18- 24 unemployment rate below 50%. Meanwhile the ‘Movement of Nantes’ renew our faith in solidarity and internationalism. Their declaration begins in an overture to the Greek ambassador :

“Your excellency, in solidarity with your country, I, the undersigned………….. request personally to be counted at heart a Greek, to enjoy the rights and duties of dual nationality, and to express this international citizenship with a view to the establishment of universal democracy in liberty and equality, twenty-five centuries after the time of Solon, Clisthene, and Pericles. Thanks in advance for your response, and in fraternity with your people. “

Je suis Grec aussi!


For years I have argued that many within the progressive wing of youth work have clung mistakenly on to a hope that the Labour Party could be a force for social change, even through the Blair era. Of course this question needs further debate, but the omens are not promising.  According to Liam Byrne, as Ed Miliband has said, tough times expose your values, and Labour is clear: we are on the side of people who work hard and do the right thing. Unfortunately in tough times many folk can’t even hope to work hard and faced with the obscenity of bankers’ bonuses and MP’s expenses wonder what is the right thing to do?!

Radical rethink on welfare

And here’s the Daily Mail version!

Miliband gets tough with scroungers

All of which prompts Sarah Ditum to charge Labour with giving up on fighting the five Giants cited in the Beveridge report – Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness.

Labour gives up fighting Giants

We would be very pleased to publish alternative arguments in favour of a renewed optimism in Labour from supporters and critics.


As for analysing the remarkable rise of autonomous groupings challenging the status quo, the Berkeley Journal of Sociology has drawn together a range of critical articles at  Understanding the Occupy Movement. It includes:

The Fight for Real Democracy – Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

The Party of Wall Street meets its nemesis – David Harvey

This Shit is fucked up and Bullshit –  McKenzie Wark

None of this stuff is easy-going, but has its rewards.


Finally in the world of youth work and youth services  ChooseYouth is taking a deep breath after its efforts during 2011. It is in the midst of revising its manifesto, which we will post as soon as it becomes available. Meanwhile the Alliance has recruited further support in the form of COMPASS YOUTH, who might well want to put us right about the potential of a renewed Labour Party.

Compass Youth joins the Choose Youth Alliance

A New Year Message


As for our own New Year’s message, wishing you a Happy New Year seems at odds with reality. We’ll content ourselves with hoping for a New Year of laughter and tears, solidarity and resistance.