Youth work, performativity and the new youth impact agenda: getting paid for numbers? – Tania de St Croix



Tania de St Croix


The ‘impactful’ youth organisation relies on self-improving youth workers and self-improving young people – ideal entrepreneurial, neoliberal subjects.

Continuing the debate on the youth impact agenda Tania de St Croix, a member of the IDYW steering group, has published a provocative, yet nuanced, incisive and widely-researched article, Youth work, performativity and the new youth impact agenda: getting paid for numbers? in the Journal of Education Policy. I’d be tempted to say it is robust and rigorous, if that tired phrase had not been done to death and lost all meaning. Its appearance is timely, coming only a few days before the Centre for Youth Impact’s gathering in London, Shaping the future of impact measurement. Her shot across the bows of the ‘impacteers’ is that their fixation threatens to marginalise further open access, process-centred youth work. A distinctive strength of her analysis is that it is grounded in her research project’s face-to-face engagement with part-time youth workers and volunteers, often a silent and silenced constituency.


A growing policy emphasis on measurement and outcomes has led to cultures of performativity, which are transforming what educators do and how they feel about themselves in relation to their work. While most analysis of performativity in education has focused on schools, this article investigates parallel developments in youth work. Youth work is a practice of informal education, in which young people learn and develop through activities, conversation and association. Its evaluation and monitoring have changed over the past two decades, as funding has become tied to targets and measureable outcomes. This article focuses on the English context, where government and third sector organisations are promoting a ‘youth impact agenda’, encouraging organisations to predefine and measure their outcomes. Drawing on data from interviews and focus groups with youth workers, the article argues that the current emphasis on impact risks further marginalising youth work at a time when this practice is already suffering from extensive spending cuts. The article concludes that we need to re-think the purposes and processes of evaluation and accountability – in youth work and beyond – in ways that genuinely value the perspectives of young people and grassroots practitioners.

A brief excerpt to whet the appetite:

Open youth work is particularly unsuited to ‘measurement’ because of its open-ended nature and its basis in peer group learning and informal education. Rather than outcomes being defined in advance, they emerge in negotiation with young people, and the focus is likely to shift and develop in relation to the specific individuals and groups attending, their needs and interests, and the changing social and political context in which they take place. The everyday activities of open youth work can even appear chaotic or purposeless to an outsider: perhaps a rowdy game of cards is in progress in a corner; another group is gathered around chatting and laughing; some people are painting a mural; others appear to be in deep and serious conversation by the kettle. These ‘everyday’ situations are supplemented with more structured elements introduced in negotiation with young people (perhaps an outdoor activities residential or making a film); ‘projects’ that are easier to report on. What is more difficult to describe, let alone measure, is the long-term relationship-based engagement that is at the core of the work, and without which specific projects would be less likely to happen; there is a significant focus in open youth work on process, on what happens ‘between the cracks’ and over time. It is this emphasis on and celebration of the informal and the open-ended that brings youth work into conflict with cultures of managerial accountability and performativity.

My one reservation is that Tania does not pursue what I think is a debilitating consequence of datafication, namely fabrication. Getting paid for by numbers leads to numbers being made up. This tendency is systemic. From my conversations, there is no reason to believe youth work is exempt from this malady.  Perhaps I exaggerate and it would appear that this issue did not emerge explicitly within Tania’s research. Or perchance it remains suppressed.

In a piece, Threatening Youth Work,  I put together with Marilyn Taylor the following exchange takes place.

I’m sure some people will be deeply offended by the implication that results, the need to compete are undermining the integrity of practice.

Without doubt, it is happening. To return to the overall argument made by Toby Lowe, his research into Outcomes-based Management reveals that wherever it is being used – in the Health Service, in Social Services, in Housing – ‘gaming’ occurs. To put it bluntly, the need to meet targets and outcomes leads managers and workers into manipulating and fabricating the data. As Toby is at pains to say this is not about maverick individuals, bad apples. ‘Gaming’, falsifying the figures, is a systemic dilemma. It is the consequence of a flawed approach to evaluating the purpose and quality of practice. As things stand youth work has invested its very soul into the Outcomes project. Whilst workers will talk off the record about malpractice, the cost of blowing the whistle would be enormous. It would be perceived as an act of treason.

New development: The paradox of outcomes—the more we measure, the less we understand – Toby Lowe

Conference of European Research Network of Open Youth Work: ‘Theory and Practice – Understanding Youth Work’ 19 – 20 January 2017 : Places Available

There are places available at this conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, where IDYW will be contributing a workshop on the insidious impact of neoliberalism on the provision and philosophy of open youth work in England.


Conference of European Research Network of Open Youth Work: ‘Theory and Practice Understanding Youth Work’ and Launch of the International Journal of Open Youth Work 19 – 20 January 2017

Conference venue: Hotel Panorama, Vilnius

There is no participation fee, boarding and lodging will be covered January 19-20,
travel costs up to 100€ will be reimbursed during or right after the conference.

Application form here.


POYWE LOGBOOK 2 focuses on youth work and young refugees


The second issue of the LOGBOOK E-Magazine on Professional Open Youth Work is out now. The main topic of this issue is open youth work and young refugees – read perspectives from Austria, Croatia, Germany and Sweden and much more.

The situation of young refugees in Europe is critical in regards to their access to human rights, their participation and their status when they turn 18. Youth work needs support in terms of capacity or funding, coalition building and having a voice in discussions concerning young refugees.

We also present again the current situation of our field of action in some countries – this time the spotlight is on Austria, Malta and Norway.

Voices from a young person and a youth worker from Lithuania, how to become a detached youth worker in The Netherlands and how to bridge the gap between research and practice in youth work round off this issue.

Enjoy and tell us what you think!

LOGBOOK – new platform for professional open youth work


Message from POYWE, of which IDYW is a full member, particularly through the brilliant work of Pauline Grace. More to follow. 

We proudly present our new platform for professional open youth work – LOGBOOK. It offers a video channel featuring experts about different aspects of youth work and an E-Magazine that takes up relevant trends, challenges, methods and opinions of/for the field. Soon to come there will also be webinars where we invite all of you to join the discussion. It is a product of our Strategic Mapping Partnership, who today launched the new service at our meeting in Helsinki, Have a look, listen in and enjoy!


The first edition of LOGBOOK Magazine takes up the issue of radicalisation and extremism among young people and discusses the role professional open youth work might have in this, presents an insight in the current state of affairs in Croatia, England and The Netherlands, interviews youth workers and young people and asks experts for their opinion. Have a look and enjoy reading!

Coming Events, the Corbyn Effect and an Apology

This week I’m going to be dashing about so there won’t be many posts. One of my weaknesses is failing to keep the Events page up-to-date. Hence this post tries to catch up on what events are in the offing

Friday, September 8 International Study Visit meeting in Birmingham organised by Newman in partnership with Norway and Professional Open Youth Work Europe [POYWE]. IDYW is contributing sessions on the state of youth work in England through Bernard Davies and Tony Taylor.Other speakers include Howard Sercombe [Scotland], Sue Morgan [Northern Ireland] and Mick Conroy [Wales]

Friday, September 8 A Campaign for Youth Work, exploratory meeting in Nottingham initiated by Jason Pandya-Wood. IDYW will be represented.

Tuesday, September 22 Filling the Vacuum – Leadership and the Youth Sector in Leeds. Hope some our supporters will be there.

Thursday October 8 One Hundred Years of Youth and Community Work Education: A Celebration at YMCA George Williams College, London. IDYW will be supporting. STOP PRESS : Places still available

Friday, October 16 The National Youth Sector Debate organised by NCVYS in London. IDYW will be represented.

Tuesday, October 20 Positive for Youth, Positive for Society: The Future of Young People’s Services organised by Public Policy Exchange in Central London. Expensive £195 per person to listen to the dominant orthodoxy, but we’re hoping to get someone there.

Wednesday, November 11 Youth Work and Faith: debates, delights and dilemmas organised by Youth & Policy in Bradford. We will be supporting.


Ta to Shropshire Star

Ta to Shropshire Star

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has certainly animated many a youth worker on Facebook. We’ll try to do a post next week exploring the possible implications as a catalyst to further discussion.


Finally an apology to several folk, who have sent in material, which has not yet appeared. I’ll endeavour to catch up next week. Best Wishes to all.