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22 September 2014

Monday 22 September 2014

I am really excited that London Youth will be part of the Centre for Youth Impact as an early adopter. As someone who has always instinctively believed in the value of high quality youth work, to have the opportunity to actually demonstrate its value to others – particularly those who make funding or policy decisions that affect  young people – is a really important step.

Of course, it is not something that is going to transform the youth work landscape over night. And because it won’t be a simple journey, some youth workers have important reservations and fears. Just last week, one of our member clubs, who do great work in a disadvantaged area, sent a message via twitter that summed up a fairly widely held concern:

"#outcomes 1 More young people will fill in forms. 2 More YP will be questioned. 3 More YP will get fed up. 4 More funders will tick boxes."

We totally understand where some youth workers are coming from on this. Open access youth work is under increasing pressure. Youth workers are supporting young people with greater needs and with less resources. Important services are under threat.

But having said all of that, for us at London Youth, we believe this is even more reason why we should develop an evidence-based approach to our work.

This is for three reasons;

1. To make the case for youth work and encourage investment into our network. The huge cuts in youth services show that the argument for its value has still not been won. We want to produce statistically valid data that shows good youth work improves the resilience, confidence and relationships skills of young people who as a result are likely to be healthier, socially responsible and navigate a fulfilling career. This will help us make the case for more investment by government and funders in young people and our membership – and ultimately help some of the clubs that are nervous or sceptical resolve some of the challenges they are facing.

2. To understand what we can do better. By having robust evaluation on our work we can better analyse the elements of what we do that work and what has the greatest impact. With this information we can make our work more focused and more efficient and do what we do better. At our residential centre, Hindleap Warren, for example, we are testing our hypothesis that youth groups get more out of the experience if they have pre-and-post-visit engagement with the instructor who will be working with them. From this we can decide how to best allocate our resources.

3. To develop our staff. One of the more unexpected benefits of implementing an outcomes framework into what we do has been the opportunity it has created for staff development. By discussing and debating their theories of change, analysing their data and sharing stories of success, our staff are becoming more aware of the difference they make and thus more deliberate in the impact they can have on young people. It also helps the whole organisation align to core corporate outcomes, despite the diversity of what we do.

I know that there will always be sceptics of this approach in our network and we love the feisty diversity of perspective that comes with 400 community-based youth clubs.

We also know that putting outcomes measurement into practice is not straightforward and we are as committed to trying to support our members through this as we are to the priniciple itself. If we are to lead change on this front in our membership we need to make the process – and the language – more accessible, with less time and paperwork involved for people to engage with it.

But the main way we will convince people of the value of an outcomes-based approach is to demonstrate that we can drive investment by showing those who don’t get it just how, why and when good youth work works. 

This blog was written by Rosie Ferguson, Chief Executive of London Youth.