The news that the National Youth Agency are taking forward proposals to launch an Institute for Youth Work is hugely welcome. Targeted at all those working and volunteering in the youth sector, the Institute will provide a common platform for youth workers to share and debate youth work practice, further their professional development and provide a strategic voice for youth workers whatever their sector or background.
Here at The Young Foundation we know this collaboration will benefit workers and volunteers and, ultimately, the young people they work with. The Institute for Youth Work has emerged from the Catalyst consortium of youth sector bodies – NCVYS, NYA, The Young Foundation, and Social Enterprise UK working together (funded by the Department for Education) to look at ways to strengthen the youth sector.
As part of our work within the consortium we developed the Framework of Outcomes for Young People – which described the outcomes resulting from youth work and highlighted the fundamental importance of social and emotional capabilities to the achievement of all other outcomes for all young people.
We went on to put the Framework of Outcomes in to practice with three voluntary sector organisations – Brathay Trust, British Red Cross and London Youth. As we noted in our follow up report Noticing the Change – A framework of outcomes for young people in practice collaboration proved to be key for organisations beginning their outcomes journey.
Although most youth organisations are convinced of the need to develop an outcomes focus, and that they need to be able to evidence the impact of their work to young people, their communities, funders and commissioners, they are understandably resistant to imposed constraints on delivery and programmes. Our piloting work revealed concerns from organisations that they could become restricted by overly specific outcomes focussed requirements from funders or commissioners and this could lose them the ability to be flexible and adaptive to young people’s needs.
There were also worries expressed around the impact that monitoring and measuring outcomes could have on delivery – “too much form-filling” – as well as confusion over some of the terminology being used.
The organisations we worked with found sharing these concerns – and approaches to overcome them – with each other, extremely useful in overcoming some of the barriers. All too often we found organisations feeling like they are working in isolation – and this can lead to constant re-invention, and even duplication, as existing tools and techniques and models are overlooked or seen as not suitable. Organisations in our pilot found the Framework of Outcomes useful in order to identify a starting point and provide a common language for the discussions.
“I want to encourage people to see this as a never ending journey. Don’t rush the process as it will take you longer in the long term, but evidence the journey well and share with others so you know what help you need from them. People picking up your work can see its history – the reason for your decisions.”
(Gill Allbutt, British Red Cross)
The three organisations we worked with are at an advanced position articulating and evidencing the outcomes that result for young people from their work. But many, many others in the sector are not. The Institute for Youth Work will help bring individual youth workers – many of whom are struggling with these issues in their own organisations and settings – opportunities to debate, share, learn, and reflect on these critical questions and where the challenges lie for them and their organisations.
We believe there needs to be support for them, and for organisations within the sector who are going through this process. Organisations should make connections and share learning. The more organisations work together to support an outcomes focus, the clearer the message will be to policy makers and funders about the impact of youth work for young people and society as a whole.
*With thanks to John Steinbeck for the title quote.