At the iOi, promoting qualitative ways of working with young people is among our driving forces, with learning and play one of our key themes. We’re excited to share this paper on assessing youth work through story-telling. Below is an introduction for our readers from Dr Naomi Thompson, senior lecturer in youth and community work at Goldsmiths, University of London. She co-authored the piece with her colleagues Paula Connaughton, Tania de St Croix and Pauline Grace. Particular highlights for us include the value of relationship and process-based assessment in creating connections, rather than just outcomes.

The way that work with children and young people is measured today is so often only focused on numbers and statistics. What percentage of young people have been prevented from getting involved in crime or antisocial behaviour? How many young people report better mental health? How does the work we do lead to hard outcomes?

This way of valuing youth and children’s work in terms of its ends ignores both the value of the process itself and the many softer and longer term impacts it achieves. It is also disconnected from the experiences of the children and young people who we are working with and it does not allow them to tell their stories about the meaning, value and impact of our work.

this way of valuing youth and children’s work is disconnected and does not allow young people to tell their stories

In Defence of Youth Work’ was formed in 2009 to resist the way that market values, hard outcomes, and ‘return on investment’ mantras are imposed on relationship and process-based youth work. One initiative we have developed over the last few years is our Story-Telling project, which started as a gathering of stories from young people and youth workers about what youth work is through specific examples that had meaning to them. Twelve of these stories were published in a short book, This is Youth Work, in 2011.

Since then, members of our steering group have delivered story-telling workshops across the UK and even internationally (recently in Ireland and Japan). These workshops encourage the telling and unpicking of stories to get to the heart of what youth work is for those who directly experience it as staff, volunteers and/or young people. We have also developed our story-telling resource website with examples of how story-telling is and can be used to facilitate reflection and change in our work.

It allows for the use of imagination rather than the reduction of what we do down to numbers and outputs

The story-telling method allows for more creative, dynamic and meaningful messages about our work, why we do it and what it achieves. It allows for the use of imagination rather than the reduction of what we do down to numbers and outputs. It celebrates the creativity and process of the work we do. It is, in itself, a meaningful process of reflecting on and understanding our work. It is inclusive, connective and involving of the children and young people who experience our work and allows for them to be part of defining and shaping what it means and what it achieves.

Read the paper on Goldsmiths Research Online.

Image from the Institute of Imagination’s 2019 cultural residency with BitterSuite, The Firebird Lab. This residency explored empathy through music, storytelling and participatory performance.

Posted by:Dr Naomi Thompson

Senior lecturer in Youth and Community Work and Head of Learning and Teaching, Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies (STaCS), Goldsmiths, University of London

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