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Rethinking Impact, Evaluation and Accountability in Youth Work

All over the world, there is a growing imperative to demonstrate the impact of social and educational practices and interventions. While most agree that the evaluation of social programmes is vital to ensure accountability and quality, some approaches to impact measurement are experienced as distorting, inappropriate and intrusive at a grassroots level. Impact and evaluation processes are shaped by a globalised and predominantly neoliberal context, where approaches based on ‘measurement’ and ‘return on investment’ tend to dominate.

This study researches these issues in the field of youth work in the UK, where a ‘youth impact agenda’ has developed in recent years. It will investigate how and why the youth impact agenda has come about, and how it is enacted in open youth work settings such as youth clubs, community-based youth groups, and detached or street-based youth work. Some youth workers feel that impact is impossible to measure and that measurement can distort practice, while others feel that impact measurement is vital to gain funding and build legitimacy.

The research will identify how impact and evaluation tools and mechanisms interact with the practice, management and administration of youth work, at a time when this practice has been threatened by extensive spending cuts. Crucially, it will engage with varied groups of young people to explore how they experience and perceive impact and evaluation mechanisms.

Aims

The research aims to:

  • find out whether and how the impact agenda is shaping everyday practice and the overall provision of open youth work;
  • explore commonalities and differences with related fields of practice, and with youth work in other countries; and
  • explore and share approaches to evaluation and accountability that are congruent with youth work practice.

 

Methods

This three-year qualitative research project will involve around 150 young people, youth workers, managers and policymakers in:

  • in-depth interviews
  • focus groups
  • participant observation
  • youth participatory methods (photography, peer interviewing, and film-making)

It aims to find out how the youth impact agenda is implemented in practice, and how impact processes are experienced and perceived by young people and youth workers. It will include the perspectives of funding agencies and policymakers, and explore how and why ‘youth impact’ has become so important at this time.

It will focus on open youth work settings that are based on informal education and long-term relationships (e.g. youth clubs, street-based youth work, girls’ groups, LGBT youth work, young refugee projects and similar). Most of the research will take place in England. A short research visit to the USA will enable comparisons with a context in which youth impact approaches are more thoroughly embedded, and links will be developed with researchers and practitioners in other international contexts who are interested in these issues.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal investigators

ECS_Destcroix

Tania de St Croix

Lecturer in the Sociology of Youth and Childhood

Investigators

Louise Doherty

Louise Doherty

Research Associate

Funding

  • Funding body: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Amount: £218,250
  • Period: April 2018 - June 2021

Keywords

  • Youth
  • work
  • education
  • impact