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