Standing up for being counted: The Centre For Youth Impact responds to Tony Taylor’s critique



Photo from the March 16 conference pinched unashamedly from the CYI web site


A few weeks ago I linked to a piece I’d scribbled for the new look Youth & Policy – Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development. I must confess to being pleased that the Centre for Youth Impact has felt moved to respond in a generous, yet inevitably critical way in a blog, jointly written by Bethia McNeil, Pippa Knott and Matt Hill, the Centre’s core team – Standing up for being counted: When treasuring is measuring, and why we might need a rethink. Within it, they seek to address the challenges found in the current dominant measurement framework and propose a rethink of the value of measurement in youth work.

The blog opens as follows:

Back in March this year, we hosted an event focused on measurement in personal and social development. We were really pleased to see Tony Taylor’s recent article in Youth and Policy, following up on the discussion, and agree that it would have been most beneficial had there been more time and space to explore the themes. Indeed, these themes are so vital that we felt moved to add our voice to Tony’s in this blog. Overall, we were struck at the many points where we agree with Tony’s forthright critique of the dominant paradigm in impact measurement, but there also remain some areas of fundamental disagreement – perhaps as might be expected in such a complex and contested area.

and comment:

We agree that it might be harder to ‘measure’ the impact of youth work than other more targeted or narrowly defined forms of work with young people – but, for us, this demands that we develop how we measure and understand what really counts about youth work, and via a process that enriches rather than undermines practice.

I hope very much you will find time to absorb their argument in full and, as they propose, join a crucial and continuing discussion.

For my part, I’d like to respond afresh, but for the moment I’m struck by the significance of the position they articulate part way through the blog.

Our stance is that measurement is a fundamentally human activity that is woven into every aspect of our lives, and which helps us make sense of the world around us.

Changing just one word in this sentence captures, at least for me, perhaps the essence of our differing perspectives.

‘Our stance is that judgement is a fundamentally human activity that is woven into every aspect of our lives, and which helps us make sense of the world around us.’

To put it another way, we make judgements all of the time in our daily lives, whilst we take measurements only when appropriate.

And the debate will certainly continue in a week’s time at The Centre for Youth Impact Gathering 2017: Shaping the future of impact measurement

taking place on 11 September 2017, 10:00 – 16:30 at Platform Islington, Hornsey Road Baths, 2 Tiltman Place, London N7 7EE.

I’m not sure if there are still places available, but visit the above link to find out. I’d love to be there.









Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development – Tony Taylor

In theory, I’m about to have a quiet August, largely free from maintaining the IDYW website, responding to Facebook and twittering. Obviously, you will be devastated at the news, but never fear find below the link to the latest article on the rejuvenated Youth & Policy platform. By chance, it’s a piece of mine, something of a rant about my deep misgivings about the contemporary, neoliberal obsession with measuring the immeasurable and its insidious impact on youth work. I know it’s hardly holiday reading, but if you do get round to glancing at its sparkling prose, comments however caustic welcomed.

Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development

Perplexed as usual – Ta to Justin Wyllie for photo

Tony Taylor of In Defence of Youth Work (IDYW) was invited by the Centre for Youth Impact (CYI) to debate with Paul Oginsky at a conference ‘Measure & Treasure’ held on March 16th, 2017 in London. The following is a version of what he would have said if time had allowed. It is structured around the five questions posed in advance of the conference by Bethia McNeil, the CYI’s director.

I begin:

As you might expect there are differing interpretations of what we mean by PSD, but all aspire to be holistic, to be concerned with the whole person, their values, their knowledge, their skills, their emotions and desires. Fascinatingly, from a youth work perspective, half a century ago in 1967, Bernard Davies and Alan Gibson, in repudiating the common-sense idea of an incremental adolescent journey to adult maturity, argued that the fundamental purpose of PSD should be to help young people acquire the social skills of cooperation and comradeship, to develop a commitment to the common good. In stark contrast today’s dominant version of PSD is deeply individualistic, leaning for sustenance on developmental and cognitive psychology with their behavioural impositions of stages, roles, traits and norms upon young people growing up. For my part, I remain committed to the version espoused by Davies and Gibson, later to be summed up in a 1977 Wigan Youth Service Programme of Action as ‘personal, social and political awareness’. Or, indeed, if I am mischievous, PSD is a matter of ‘consciousness’, the very mention of which poses insoluble dilemmas for those wishing to calculate its existence.

Along the way I muse:

My comment on neutrality takes me to a final point regarding the idea of character itself. The pioneers of youth work, the likes of George Williams, Lily Montagu and Baden-Powell, would warm to its re-emergence, confident in their concern to nurture young men and women of good Christian or Jewish character. Explicitly they engaged without embarrassment with two inextricably interrelated questions, which, if we are similarly honest, we cannot escape:

In what sort of society do we wish to live? What are its characteristics?
And, depending on our answer, what sort of characters, do we think, are best suited to either the maintenance of what is or the creation of something yet to be?


In terms of being challenged about what they’re up to, whilst researchers, workers, funders, politicians may want to stand outside of the social relations they are seeking to influence, this is impossible, if oft wilfully ignored. Being involved in the process of personal and social development is not a laboratory experiment. If you wish to measure the resilience of a young person, if you wish to make a judgement on their character, the very same measurements and judgements ought to be asked of yourself, of funders, of managers, of politicians. In my opinion, it takes some cheek for politicians, not notable for their collective honesty and integrity, to pontificate about what they see as the appropriate form of PSD for young people. The same goes for all of us. As they say, we’re all in this together. All our characters are up for grabs.

I conclude with a couple of questions:

Are you measuring how successful you have been in manufacturing an emotionally resilient young person who will put up with the slings and arrows of outrageous social policies, accept their lot, and believes there is no alternative?

Or are we evaluating how successful we have been in creating, albeit tentatively, a critical, questioning young person, who seeks to change their lot in concert with others, who continues to imagine that a fairer, juster, more democratic society is possible, that the present calamitous state of affairs is not the best that humanity can do?


Continuing a Conversation – Is IDYW too political, out of touch? Tony Taylor wonders.

Find below the third part of the conversation between Colin Brent, Bernard Davies and myself, which took place a week or so ago.


Dear Colin and Bernard

I’ve got to admit that Colin’s comments re the overly politicised nature of the IDYW campaign have left me both perplexed and concerned.  On the one hand from the outset the campaign has been explicitly political, because the assault on youth work is political. Speaking politically is not a trend in the Campaign. It is at its heart.  This clear and open perspective has attracted a measure of support [ for example, 3,500 visits per month to the web site, over 1000 supporters on Facebook] or we wouldn’t exist five years down the line. On the one hand a strong message from some youth workers – not just academics, who might be seen also as practitioners – has been that IDYW is one of the few places where critical and political argument about policy and practice takes place.  On the other I have expressed at regular intervals my concern about my role as coordinator and by default the overwhelming contributor to the web site. Because unlike Colin’s father  my colleagues over the years, the young people with whom I have worked, have always known where I stand politically. Indeed if this was not my position I would never have drafted the original Open Letter, which launched the Campaign. Thus I have always been sensitive to the accusation that the IDYW site reflected unduly my politics. This has come up on a number of occasions, when I have suggested that I step down from my role. As to my consistent requests for alternative thoughts to be put on the site, silence largely reigns.

Forgive me for focusing on the content of the IDYW site, but Colin’s implication that we don’t listen to the field flies in the face, as I understand of it, of our series of Stories workshops, which are all about a process of supporting workers in unraveling the distinctiveness of their practice. In no sense do these workshops, as I understand it, attempt to impose a particular political line. From all accounts they have been especially rewarding. In this context it is our presence on the internet plus the Critically Engaging seminars where politics are seen to be problematically explicit. If I am being over-sensitive it is because the content of the latest seminars around ‘Outcomes’ and ‘Ethics and Politics’ has been informed by papers I have prepared and which then have appeared on the site. I presume that the many youth workers known to Colin, who baulk at the politicised tone coming from IDYW have attended the seminars, have read the papers or are put off when visiting the web site/ the Facebook page or indeed put off by the views of other colleagues, who allegedly know that IDYW is some sort of anarcho-communist conspiracy. Or if not, from whence does their suspicion steal?

As for political dogmatism I will hold my hand up personally to lapses in this regard over the years, to moments when I have been unhelpfully hasty and harsh. And I am on record as arguing that the discourse of ‘anti-oppressive and discriminatory practice’ took an authoritarian and counter-productive turn. However in the present circumstances it is not within IDYW that I locate the dogmatists. They are to be found, I would suggest, in the ranks of middle and senior management, who have closed down debate across many agencies and services. Their mantra is do it, get on with it. In their blinkered eyes there is no alternative.

Whatever our differences I don’t think we concur with their fixation upon imposed targets and outcomes. However we do need to find a way of revisiting without excluding people ‘where we are up to?’ There is a straightforward and democratic way to address this question. I suggest in all seriousness that the 2014 IDYW conference now fixed for April 10 should address the question of the Campaign’s failure to have a wider appeal and how this might be overcome. I am not taking the piss here. Some folk know that every week I am plagued by the dilemma of whether in any sense I am reflecting how at least some youth workers feel about ‘what’s going on’. Let’s get the issue out in the open.

Any road enormous thanks to Colin for opening the door to exploring the question of whether the Campaign is out of touch. It shouldn’t and cannot be brushed under the carpet.

Best as ever



Opening a Conversation – Is In Defence of Youth Work too political and out of touch?

ta to

The last week has witnessed a spontaneous exchange of e-mails between Colin Brent, Bernard Davies and myself about the state of our Campaign. As the issues emerged all of us agreed that our critical dialogue should be shared with a wider audience. Hence we have tidied up the correspondence somewhat, whilst seeking to retain its immediacy. The initial post from Colin is to be found below and in the next day will be followed by the subsequent posts. We hope you find our conversation stimulating and very much hope that you might join in. If you are so moved send your thoughts to and he’ll put them up as distinct posts in their own right.


Dear Bernard and Tony,


Having been involved with IDYW for the last couple of years, and after several discussions with colleagues, I have decided to put together some thoughts about what I feel are trends within IDYW that are hampering our ability to both reach a wider audience and make a deeper impact.  These thoughts are meant as reflections about our current situation, and a nudge to explore how we can make the campaign more effective.


Firstly, I think that we need to be better at listening to youth workers on the ground and supporting them to offer the best possible provision for and with young people. I myself often find it hard to attend IDYW events, as they often clash with my work.  Is there not a better way that we can reach out and start debates then to run conferences?  I feel that the IDYW timetable often reflects the realities of academics more than face-to-face youth workers. If we fail to reach out more to practicing youth workers and listen to what they have to say rather than just criticizing the political context within which they work, then IDYW risks alienating those it is meant to supporting.  Many youth workers I know feel passionate about the value of their work, but baulk at the politicised tone coming from IDYW.  I always look to my father for inspiration on this front.  He was heavily influenced by left-wing politics, and much of his work was nourished by this.  This had significant impact on the young people he worked with and how they experienced the world.  However, not one of his colleagues or the young people was aware of his politics.


I recognise that politics plays a key role in how we support the values we wish to see propagated.  Politics has a very real effect both on the lives of the young people we work with and our ability to respond to their interests and needs.  There is a local election next May in area, and the future of the youth service may well depend on the result.  My issue is not the grappling with political decisions by those in power that directly affect youth work, but more with the general left-wing assumptions that prevail in IDYW. I say this although I share many of the convictions myself.  My concern comes from seeing the effect that SWP dogma had on isolating people from local campaigns during my youth.  Often these were people who had never been involved in a campaign before, fighting to save their local school field from development or against the encroachment of the mega supermarkets on their high street. Their cause was just, fighting against the power of overbearing companies, but when told they were part of a wider class war, many drifted away.  Our campaign at IDYW is surely to support open-access, voluntary association, and youth work that starts where the young people are.  We as individuals may believe that this would be easier in an egalitarian society, but many who share the core values of the campaign would not agree.


I guess the issue for a movement like IDYW is how to empower the core, energising them to continue with their fight, whilst attracting new people to the cause.  This can only be done if we are an open and tolerant movement that embraces the differences within.  For some reason, too few people contribute to the website.  Not enough face-to-face youth workers are on the steering group.  I myself am guilty on both counts. Somehow, I, as well as other people I have spoken to feel a need to tow a party line, that we will be attacked if we use the wrong language (can we say ‘youth services’ in a positive context? Must we always be ‘radical’ in our approaches?).  Although we are a flat organisation, many do not feel included in the movement.  I don’t feel anyone is to blame here, it is certainly not on purpose (or I hope not!).  But somehow we must ensure that IDYW reflects the open, tolerant space that we wish for young people.


I look forward to hearing your response to my concerns, and working together to move things forward.


All the best