Recording Impact – thoughts from the Transformative Youth Work conference…and much more

Following on from my post, impact evaluation – a brisk intro, a few folk asked whether I could write up the scribbled notes I used for my half hour rant to the Plymouth conference. Well, if I’m honest, a grandson, my faithful dog, Glyka and a couple of sheep did. Others muttered, ‘if that bloke mentions neoliberalism again, we’ll puke’. Be this as it may, Jon Ord, the driving force behind the conference has ridden to my rescue, having painstakingly drawn together recordings of a large number of the contributions made over the two days. These are gathered together via the conference website and the link within the panel, ‘Recordings of Conference Talks’.

 

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The ‘expert’ panel leading an impact evaluation debate. Gill Millar in charge of the mike.

There are 68 recordings in total, reflecting a rich range of analysis and opinion. I would recommend trawling through the three pages to get a feel for this diversity.

For example, to give you no more than a flavour:

Accountability in Youth Work in the USA – Susan Matloff-Nieves & Dana Fusco

Reflections on the Impact of Youth Work in Finland – Juha Nieminen

Exploring youth work outcomes in Japan – Maki Hiratsuka (et al)

Evaluating young people’s participation in Australia – Tim Corney

Questioning the outcomes of youth work in Ireland – Mairéad Cluskey

The Impact of Youth Work in Finland – Lasse Siurala & Eeva Sinisola Juha

Youth work in Malaysia – Jufitri Bin Joha

The impact of youth work in Italy – Daniele Morciano

Evaluating Well-being –  Kaz Stuart (UK)

Centre for Youth Impact – Bethia McNeil (UK)

Evaluating Youth Empowerment in Spain –  Anna Planas & Pere Soler

Measuring Youth Work in Scotland – Susan Hunter & Kelly McInnes

The Impact of Youth Work in France –  Marc Carletti

Reflections on Malta’s National Youth Policy – Joanne Cassar

Building Bridges in Flemish Youth Work – Els de Ceuster & Jo Clauw

Enabling Spaces for Youth Activism in Egypt – Mohamed Yassein

Youth Work and Prevention in the Netherlands Judith Metz & Jolanda Sonneveld

My recording, if you’re interested, is to be found on the third page. As you will hear the first two minutes are taken up with Tony Jeffs, the chair, organising the masses pouring into the room!

Resisting Impact – a neoliberal tool of social conformity

Ta to Stephen Dixon of Marjohn for the photo.

The Politics of Youth Work and Impact Evaluation – a brisk intro!

neoliberalism

 

A few weeks ago I contributed to the Transformative Youth Work conference in Plymouth via a short seminar and as an ‘expert’ panel member. Here is the three-minute intro I offered at the beginning of the panel-led debate, ‘Critical Reflections on Youth Work Evaluation’. Obviously, it is sweeping, stuffed with assertions and short on jokes.

Contributing my longer polemical paper to some of the folk at the Transformative Youth Work conference. Ta to Pauline Grace.

 

INTRO TO CRITICAL REFLECTIONS ON YOUTH WORK EVALUATION DEBATE, SEPTEMBER 5, PLYMOUTH

Other Panel members were Bethia McNeil, Centre for Youth Impact [UK], Professor Emeritus Dale Blythe [USA] and Dr Lasse Siurala [Finland]

The first thing to stress is that I have always sought to evaluate my practice in collaboration with fellow workers and young people themselves, stressing the positives, but always mindful of the uncertain, provisional nature of the judgements I made in endless reports across the years to committees of all kinds.

However, it is no secret that I am critical, indeed hostile to the discourse of impact evaluation that has come to dominate since the mid-1990’s, particularly so in the UK following the 2008 financial crisis. In my opinion, it is impossible to understand the agenda of prescribed outcomes, the fixation on data, the metrification of our practice outside of the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism over the last 40 years – what has become the common-sense of our age. In particular, I would draw your attention to neoliberalism’s spectacular behavioural modification project, its desire to privatise the way we see the world, to mould us in its own possessive, self-centred image. Few of us have escaped completely its clutches.

And, given youth work is essentially an effort to influence the character or the personality of a young person I do see impact evaluation as neoliberalism’s chosen method of regulating, monitoring and policing the unruly and unpredictable world of open youth work.

Its demands undermine a youth work founded on a voluntary relationship and improvised conversation with groups of young people’s choosing, ungoverned by time – a critical dialogue within which young person and youth worker are educated by one another. Impact evaluation violates the ‘intimate democratic’ space, the respect and love created, the willingness to listen, which are a prerequisite for fostering an authentic, public democracy.

As Filip Coussee puts it succinctly and memorably, this discourse seeks ‘to formalise the informal’.

As it is I think the impact enterprise is fatally flawed. Character is complex. It is not a mix of traits to be taught, inculcated and measured. But I’ll leave aside technical and managerial issues – could we improve this or that tool and the like?

In the end, my concern is with the purpose of our theory and practice, with the politics of youth work.

Do we wish to manufacture the emotionally resilient young person, who will put up with the slings and arrows of antagonistic social policies, accept their precarious lot and do the best for themselves – utterly individualised and responsibilised?

Or

Do we wish to play a part, however fragile and uncertain, in the emergence of a young critical citizen, committed to challenging their lot in concert with one another and indeed ourselves, struggling to forge a more just and equal society, believing that ‘another world is possible’?

Given the crisis haunting humanity’s future, I believe there is only one option. And having made explicitly the choice, then, by all means, let’s think about how well we are doing.

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[My reference above to ‘intimate democracy’ is a touch presumptuous as I’ve only just begun, courtesy of Hans Skott-Mhyre, to explore its possibilities as a way of describing what we do. Its origin as a concept seems to lie in the writings of Rosi Braidotti, Professor in Media and Cultural Studies at the Utrecht University.]

If you want to look more closely and indeed critically at some of the themes in my argument, see this piece in Youth & Policy.

Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development

 

 

 

 

Two Years On and still trying to resist neoliberalism’s embrace

 

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Thanks to thinksoup

Indeed it is two years since I rambled on about starting a new blog, alongside continuing in my role as Coordinator of In Defence of Youth Work – As time goes by, why another blog? In the event, the demands of doing my best as IDYW Coordinator coupled with personal upheaval meant nowt happened on here.

However, I’m about to withdraw from my role as IDYW Coordinator, taking something of a back seat in the forum’s activities. Indeed my last ‘official’ appearance as Coordinator will be at the forthcoming Transformative Youth Work conference in Plymouth,  September 4-6. I’ll be offering a paper, ‘Resisting Impact – a neoliberal tool of social conformity’ and be a supposed ‘expert’ panel member, reflecting critically on youth work evaluation.

Discussion Paper

Title: Resisting Impact – a neoliberal tool of social conformity

Key Words: (up to five) Neoliberalism, Youth Work, Measurement, Character, Resistance

Abstract: (maximum 250 words)

For four decades neoliberalism has mounted an extraordinary behavioural modification project, seeking to manufacture in its own image the self-centred, possessive individual, the satisfied, yet never satiated consumer. Few of us have escaped completely from its clutches. In its armoury of manipulation, we find the discourse of impact with its outcomes-fixated agenda and its relentless pursuit of comparative data, unveiled in the early 1990’s as the means ‘to do more with less’, nowadays crucially used as the means of changing how youth workers see both themselves and young people. The casualty in this shift to the imposition of a prescriptive, supposedly measurable script in advance of practice has been an open youth work founded on voluntary relationships and improvised conversations, ungoverned by time, which take place on young people’s terms and, dare we say it, for their own sake. The neoliberal impact agenda abhors the unruly, the unpredictable, the ‘wild spaces’, within which the youth worker and young person are educated by one another. As Filip Coussee argues, it strives ‘to formalise the informal’, to impose order.

Given youth work is never ideologically neutral and is fundamentally concerned with how young people understand themselves and the world they occupy we will tangle with two inextricably interrelated, immeasurable questions.

  • 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?

No surprises there!

In my next post, I’ll pull together links to a number of articles critical of neoliberalism’s insidious influence upon youth work.