Charlie Harris examines what funders look for in youth work and informal education projects - and draws some lessons from the experience of the Youth or Adult? initiative.
this piece I want to look at the expectations of funders. When making any
investment the first priority is to ensure that the management and
leadership of a project is right. There are dilemmas here. In any 'caring'
profession, there can be an uneasy relationship between the need to show
care and compassion, and a concern for clear and pragmatic management.
Keeping the balance can be a very skilful and complex process. How, then,
can those proposing projects approach their management with integrity, and
address the concerns of funders for a satisfactory and responsible
investment? First, though, I need to say something about the current state
of youth work.
In 1993 the sheer weight of demand for funding led to our most extensive research to date. Demand for inclusion in the Initiative had risen twenty times when compared with 1989. A thousand new contacts were made by the offices and two hundred contact visits made in the field. A hundred of these new contact visits directly involved young people. Over fifty local authority areas were covered. The situation we found was sometimes contradictory and sometimes very grim.
The present legislative position in relation to youth work is based on sections 41 - 53 of the 1944 Education Act. It is the duty of every local education authority:
to secure the provision for their area of adequate facilities for further education ... (including) leisure time occupation ... for any person over compulsory school age who is able and willing to profit by the facilities provided for that purpose ... (and) to secure that the facilities for primary and secondary and further education provided for their area included adequate facilities for recreation and social training ... (having) regard to the expediency of cooperation with any voluntary societies or bodies whose objects include the provision of facilities or the organization of activities of a similar character.
There has been no mention of youth work or the youth service in recent education legislation e.g. the 1988 Education Act. Although ministers and others - even people within the youth service itself - have consistently emphasized the significance of the 1944 Act for youth work it is now looking decidedly shaky. I have been involved in work with young people in the community for half the time the Act has been in force and the lack of a full legislative base for youth work has always been a worry. The key flaw in the Act is the word 'adequate' and its subsequent definition which has never been clear. Even in the so-called heady days of the municipal service, post-Albemarle (1960) funding varied enormously from one authority to another.
Recent legislation with regard to schooling, further education, leisure services, care in the community, children, housing and health has been comprehensive. Taken together the resultant polices have had a fundamental impact on the role of local authorities. Their main role is no longer seen as one of providing direct services but as purchasers of services - as enablers. Many elements of services are purchased centrally. We can see this especially clearly in the buying of care. For the old youth service, the impact of this legislation has been largely experienced indirectly and has had the effect of narrowing the work that could be effectively supported. This shift, combined with the anticipated development of unitary authorities, is pushing local authorities strongly in the direction of corporate management structures. In many cases, separate Directors of Education, Social and Leisure Services will not exist. Nor, as a result, will the education-based youth service.
It has rarely been acknowledged by governments that the central funding of the youth service has been weak. The amount notionally allocated by central government is at least a start point. I have worked in a number of authorities and in not one has this money actually been given in total to the youth service. Under the old funding system (GREA) there were huge differences in the percentage of allocation. In the last authority I worked in only a third of the amount of the so-called youth service finance actually went to the youth service. The rest went directly to schools and leisure services. Our researches over the last year have confirmed that the youth service is losing out more and more. As well as the loss in overall funding, there have been substantial movements towards problem-based work. We estimate that it is something like twenty times easier to gain funding for such work than it is for more preventive work. This is perhaps not surprising where, in 1993, over a hundred and sixty thousand young people were homeless, and getting on for a million under twenty-five year olds unemployed. The diversion of funds from the more developmental or preventive service to young people is all too real. Local authorities have more pressing statutory requirements which encourage this. If we had a free hand the irony is that we could make a good start by keeping the limited national budget and allocating it to what it should be for in the first place - developmental and preventive youth work.
There have been a number of attempts over the last decade to re-define the statutory requirement. All have failed but I have no doubt that a statute is required for youth and community work at the same level as the 1989 Children Act. I have changed my opinion on that over the years. Within any such Act there must be an allowance for preventive work for young people, and for a service to young people in the community. The endless debate in youth work circles, against current legislation, is mainly irrelevant. Much of the current legislation described above is working much better than people thought it would. Elements of policy need changing, but such matters are adjustments. The problem lies in balance. There has been an enormous shift from the informal education of young people towards a more problem-based approach. The evidence from the vast majority of the sixty or more agencies with whom we are in partnership in this area is that it is easier to raise money to deal with 'the youth problem' than it is to get cash for preventive work locally in the community with young people. In other words, short-termism - as the ex Chancellor of the Exchequer stated - is the real problem in current policies. There simply must be a greater emphasis on long-term investment in young people.
But doesn't youth work deal with problems? How does one reconcile the excellent work being done in the fields of housing, drugs and health education, and unemployment etc.? One doesn't. Nor does one need to. What I am saying is that the balance of funding has swung. Virtually all youth workers deal with problems and issues. The question here concerns the difficulty of categorizing young people into little boxes. If you sat down with an average group of young unemployed people you are likely to get forty different issues which individually they are concerned with. But they aren't all concerned with them all. Youth work provides alternatives. The starting point is preventive and developmental. Adults, including youth workers should not see the young as a problem but as a resource to be developed for the future of society.
The Rank Charities support sixty major initiatives involving seventy fully funded full-time youth workers. Forty-four of these are Youth or Adult? projects which combine the training and professional qualification of the workers with the development of forward-looking youth work initiatives, primarily in local communities. These in turn involve thousands of volunteers and part-time workers including our own fully supported twenty full-time young volunteers in different youth organizations. The profile of the projects can been seen from the following figures.
Fifty-five per cent of the workers supported are women, forty-five per cent are men.
Ten per cent of the projects are black or Asian.
Sixty per cent are urban, thirty per cent are urban and rural; ten per cent are rural.
Eighteen per cent are centre based; fifty-four per cent work in out-reach; six per cent are detached; fourteen per cent are centre based and out-reach projects; eight per cent are out-reach and detached projects.
Sixty per cent are working within defined local communities; forty per cent are working over an area or district.
Nineteen projects have Christian origins.
Eight are working with special needs; fourteen are undertaking general youth work; one is a drugs and Aids project; six focus on development training; ten are youth action projects, working with young volunteers; one focuses on conservation; five concern community arts; one is focusing on the circus arts; seven are youth enterprise/employment and training initiatives.
Eight have connections with formal education and schools; three run information and advice services; two are research development and training initiatives; five focus entirely on developmental youth work and 'Investing in Success'; ten have mobile elements; five work with the homeless; one is involved exclusively in children's work.
One is a youth officer scheme through a national organization; two are award schemes; two are bursary schemes.
All focus on young people's involvement and participation and one project is entirely run by young people.
Looking down this set of headline figures we can begin to see certain recurring interests and concerns. We have used the term 'cleated' (C-L-E-A-T-E-D) to describe these.
So, what concerns run through the work?
Community. First, we are interested in projects that seek to foster and develop local communities. Anybody investing locally simply cannot pretend, unless they are indigenous to the area, that they know local needs. As a funder you need to work through the right local agencies. We know that central control and direction, including notions such as the 'core curriculum' and compulsory community service, are not appropriate where local initiative and development is the concern. You can have a central strategy but each scheme is dynamically different - just as each community is unique. It's an organic cocktail - the sort of mix that epitomizes the very strength of youth work. We need to celebrate such a dynamic dialogue around difference - a dialogue which became unfashionable in the 1980s.
In practical terms a concern with community will be expressed in project proposals and operations. Care will be taken to ensure that local views are represented; that local research has been undertaken to support action; and that project work continues to foster community.
Leadership. In the Initiative we strive towards encouraging local and indigenous leadership by young people and adults. Leadership lies at the core of any investment for the future of society. It is a critical issue. The Foundation has long sought to develop leadership potential in young people. There has been a recognition that lasting change cannot be achieved from outside situations. We need people who can fire imaginations, lift spirits and help others to appreciate that they are capable of great things. Those who are part of the local scene or the group concerned are much better placed to do this.
Enterprise and employment. Virtually all we support involves an enterprising and forward-looking approach. There are two parts to this:-
A developmental approach. For a number of years now we have realized that investing in 'experimental' work does not necessarily produce the results. The trouble with experiments is that they tend to remain on the fringes of the host agency rather than become integral to its policy and agreed strategy. Rather, we look for forward-looking and enterprising work, using the best of past to create the best in the future.
Employment. Not all the initiatives we support directly address the issue of employment - but a significant number do. Our own nine month 'Gap Year' scheme, where youngsters come up through organizations that we support, and are taken on by them as full-time volunteers, has had a 90 per cent success rate in getting those young people into permanent jobs or higher education. It seems that working with a successful youth worker does produce the results for the individuals concerned.
Other examples of work specifically targeted at enterprise and employment include the Missing Link Youth or Adult? initiative in South Wales. A co-ordinated approach is being developed across four host agencies with one fulfilling the lead role. The three others are fieldwork organizations, two specializing in community arts. All aim to give young people specific skills, vocational training and an awareness of possibilities for the future.
Action. The focus of our funding is directed at projects that are rooted in clear, direct, work with young adults and young people in the community. We support youth work, not people who just talk about it. Our interest lies in the organic cocktail mentioned above. We seek to have people engage with each other, to work together - and to reflect on their experiences. At the centre of this dynamic is the learning process and in this way the work develops. The result is an enriching diversity of culture within which it is possible to share.
Training. Virtually all the initiatives include training for the future, linked to direct action and contact. Learning that takes place through the college and on the job has proved critical to the development of each project under the Youth or Adult? initiative. One of the first publications was called 'Learning to Learn Again' and I believe both the title and the publication still have relevance years later. Such learning has a direct parallel in youth work itself. The informal education process, voluntarily undertaken by young people and adults, is central to youth work. However, I believe youth workers under-estimate their potential role as trainers. There is, perhaps, suspicion remaining as a result of the numerous national temporary employment programmes that have been spewed out by various national agencies for the last two decades. Whenever I talk to young people they say two things very clearly, particularly if they are involved in undertaking voluntary work:
They thoroughly enjoy undertaking the work and being involved in the action.
They would welcome more recognition for it.
There are numerous avenues where this 'recognition' can be explored, for example through developing the use of NVQs, GNVQs and other methods of more open learning. There are also signs of national development in the training up of part-time workers and volunteers as well as the continuing development of initiatives within organizations themselves such as The Duke of Edinburgh's Award and our own Rank Foundation Certificate that we give to the Gap Year volunteers. But training is underplayed and the vast majority of young people go through the work and contact with the youth worker without any form of recognition at all - even internally. For example, the Spectrum Training Programme (an ecumenical programme aimed at part-time workers and volunteers within church organizations) has no national recognition. Recently, I have met a number of workers and young volunteers that have gone through the programme and then have had to start again on the local authority's own course because of recognition problems. It is a bit like undertaking the Grand National and then realizing you haven't done it properly and having to do it again.
Education. Education and involvement by, and with, young people and adults is a real test in measuring the level of success. It seems almost too obvious, but if you don't involve young people how can you possibly be involved in youth work? Yet some organizations struggle with the rhetoric of participation. A key component here is how workers describe and make sense of their practice. Being linked into the College training has proved a huge bonus in terms of its clarity and focus on informal education. The confidence this has given to the vast majority of workers in terms of what their job is about has reaped many rewards. In recent years it has been further enhanced by the additional focus on community education and community development. Because of the Scottish lead in demanding a Degree level qualification, the education component of the course and, as a result the youth work, has been further enhanced. The vast majority of workers we support see themselves as educationalists.
Development. Youth work is developmental. Such developmental work involves forward thinking, vision and risk. As mentioned above, development is closely linked to the enterprising approach of most projects but it is also connected to the concern for education and participation by young people. The challenges facing those involved in youth work are summed up in the title Youth or Adult?. From time to time we have had attempts at changing this title but the workers and managers concerned have said that it is still relevant. One of the key reasons for young people voting with their feet in terms of attendance at the old style youth facilities is that they were, and are, often treated like children and not young adults. It is clearly a question of attitude, particularly by the adult leaders. Whilst I don't believe that the needs of young people have changed substantially, I think, partly as a result of the way society has developed, there is an increasing need for environments that foster maturity and vision. Such change lies at the heart of development and indeed the informal education process.
There have been significant changes since the mid 1980s in many parts of the charitable world. At that time about a third of what we were supporting involved longer term initiatives. Now the proportion is eleven-twelfths. Most of that longer term support is for three to five years. Given that timespan you cannot hope for immediate results. Results are crucial, both in the short and long term but the real results do not begin to emerge until the second or third year of a project. To ensure that happens, the right level of investment is crucial. Both under-investment and over-investment lead to problems. Our philosophy is 'Decide to invest, then go all out to make it work.' In one sense, one should invest in success. Success does breed success. In our researches into the older initiatives where our support had ceased, we found that more money had been raised in the subsequent three years following the end of our investment than we put in over the previous three years. All the evidence points to the fact that that success has led to further success.
Effective research is the starting point and the key to any monitoring process. Funders will want to see that any proposal is based on sound evidence of need and thinking about how it can be addressed. Further, they will want to monitor what they are funding. If you intend to invest in something you need to know what you are investing in. Part of this is being able to spot gaps and forge creative partnerships. One of the key pieces of research that an agency can do is look at the profile of various funders - so that they can see which is most likely to share their interests and concerns.
The first strand of any monitoring policy concerns deciding to do it. It's no use deciding to support an initiative and then suddenly thinking monitoring has all been worked out. In truth, our monitoring process has evolved over the last decade or more. As mentioned previously, monitoring starts with the research and the first contact with the prospective host agency. This research is inclusive of the application received.
Once a draft project proposal is received, a visit is made to the host agency with a view to meeting those involved and getting a taste of the practice either being proposed or with which the host agency is involved. Following a successful application an Agreement is drawn up between ourselves and all the partners in the initiative. This is essentially a Statement of Intent. It outlines our expectations, the overall strategy and the expectations for monitoring and evaluation as well as our financial requirements. We expect:
1. involvement in the selection of project staff.
2. membership of project management or support groups.
3. reasonable access to, and participation in, the work of any project or projects.
4. regular written progress reports and an annual report and financial summary.
5. attendance at the regular evaluation conferences called by the Foundation.
I suppose the most obvious part of monitoring is the requirement to receive an annual report and financial summary or statement. Simply put, a satisfactory project report is needed each year before the subsequent year can be funded.
However, the annual report can only be seen in the context of the rest of the monitoring process. With the start of an initiative this involves us in the selection of the full-time staff who are being supported. Subsequent to that appointment we expect to receive regular written progress reports throughout the year. The number, length and quality of the reports does vary but, similar to the original application, we leave this to the organization and do not have a formal form or guidelines. After the initial induction period it usually means that two or three reports are received from the workers, and sometimes managers, throughout the year. The most common process is for projects to send copies of workers' reports prepared for the management committees of initiatives being supported. However, what never ceases to amaze me is the lack of demand placed on workers by the relevant managers. There are a number of examples of workers that are not required to write anything.
If there is a management or support group we have the right to be part of it so it is automatic that we would receive the appropriate notices, reports and papers. I have to say that regular attendance at such committee meetings is rare. The constraints of time do not allow for it but it has occasionally proved mutually useful.
A final and essential part of the monitoring process is to have contact with the manager, youth worker and the work they are undertaking. This is best combined with the receipt of progress reports. These can often form the focus and agenda for such meetings. However, building up a picture of what is being undertaken and meeting some of the young people involved lies at the hub of monitoring. As mentioned above, if you are investing in something you need to find out what you are investing in. You need to stay in contact and you can't do that from behind a desk. This means that myself and my colleague undertake three or four weekly contact sessions, directly with the practice.
As an umbrella to the whole of this process we organize regular national conferences for the various initiatives being supported, the aims are to share concerns and issues, ideas, develop a network, give support, answer queries and to forge a way forward. Although equally about evaluation as monitoring, they have often proved a chance to re-charge batteries, develop policy and challenge intransigence.
In some ways evaluation has been integral to monitoring but it's worth dwelling a while on what is involved. By and large, what we are supporting is not about quantity, it's about striving towards quality. This does lead us back to questions of quantity - but this is not our central preoccupation. Looking back over the last decade one can measure a ninety per cent success rate in terms of the original applications and developments from them. If you are supporting forward-looking work there are bound to be failures and risks - and this has involved hard decisions. Over the years a number of projects have been closed prematurely. Indeed, the monitoring process involves the ability not to re-fund at the end of each year. But the so called 'ten per cent failure' also involves changes in staff and management. Five years is sometimes seen as a long time. People change. Yet, the time also adds a long term vision alongside the investment.
Long term success does entail a reasonable degree of continuity in structure and avoiding too many changes in personnel (especially turnover in project staff). This means that great care has to be taken in selection and in setting up the framework for the project. In the end some disruption is bound to occur in the life of a project and here the quality of support structures is central. Within the Initiative the various structures built into the process appear to have kept problems to a minimum compared with other programmes.
As I have stated in previous publications, there are four key factors in the evaluation of all initiatives, with all of our investments:
Management. This, by and large, means who is managing the initiative and the style adopted (see below).
Integrated work. The initiative being supported must be seen as integral to the host agency. Most experiments in youth work will rarely work and they will continue to be seen as something on the fringes of importance.
Youth worker. Essentially, what we are investing in is people. The variety, indeed cocktail of that investment, is apparent in what I have written above but at its core is the leadership and the youth worker concerned. Unless the right person is appointed and supported with the right management we might as well be throwing the possibilities for success away. We are supporting leadership and training for the future - and the complexities involved in this also leads to a level of excitement which is vital.
Youth work delivery. The host agency must be able to deliver the action and not just talk about it. This is not necessarily always the case in the charitable world. One organization I researched previously held thirty-five meetings between senior officers solely to raise three hundred and fifty pounds. There is a disease and bureaucracy built into meetings, which can breed more meetings often about meetings. What we are supporting is action.
I wish on my first day in youth work somebody had told me that all youth workers were managers. I entered the work when talk of management and leadership was politically incorrect and unfashionable. They were almost dirty words. But from the start youth workers are nearly always involved in management issues. It may be managing volunteers, a programme, a budget, a centre, a report or what ever. Perhaps the 1980s led to an 'over-managed' culture yet management should be seen in a clear and balanced perspective. There are numerous books on the subject and there is not time or space here to go into any great detail of categories. Youth work is about contact and action with people, and changing lives. There is an enormous responsibility in this. That intervention is much more critical than most people would acknowledge.
This is not the time or place to go through all the characteristics of good and bad management. Many books have been written on the subject but it would be fair to say that one of the key components leading to success or otherwise in our investment is what sort of management happens. There are three levels here: management by the young people, management by the youth workers and management at an overall organizational level, and it is on the latter that I will concentrate (good and bad!). A number of qualities are required.
Vision. Managers must not be entrenched but rather practice a vision for the future. Integral to this vision is the challenge of change. Part of management's role is to look forward and attempt to predict what is going to happen or what should happen and, if possible, get ahead of the action itself. If one accepts that youth work is an organic process it should always be growing and developing. As a result, in good youth work managers there is something of the pioneering spirit.
Handling crises. Not all management is easy, to say the least. In each cohort there have been different crises to tackle and, rather like first aid, you can guarantee that no situation is the same. However, when at the height of a crisis, perhaps in circumstances foreign to what you normally experience, you show the skill to call others together and reflect, meditate and gain some sort of fulfilment, you are surely on the road to producing real results.
Navigation. The wilderness. Navigation is not an easy skill to learn. As with crises, each situation you have to navigate is different. There is a distinct parallel with mountaineering. If you are stuck in a white out where there is very little difference between the ground and the sky; a blizzard blowing and you are 3,000 feet up, you've got problems. A white out is often experienced in freezing temperatures, thick mist, gale force winds and a hammering blizzard penetrating the equipment and mechanisms of survival. If in these circumstances you can call on those resources you almost didn't know you had it is possible to navigate to safety. If in a different sort of wilderness you can still find time for reflection on the experience itself with a view to resisting temptation the results may well be surprising.
Digging in. Direct contact with practice is something you cannot do from behind a desk. How can you know what the work is about if you have never seen or experienced it? If you are asking someone to invest in something they should know just what they are investing in. There have been occasions of severe embarrassment when I have known more about the work being supported than the immediate line manager. In a recent case, the line manager had never visited the practice in an eighteen month period.
Commitment and integrity. These are a sometimes difficult combination to come to terms with. In recent years there has been a dangerous fashion for management by itself. This has produced a generation of 'park it' baggers. They arrive with a bag of goodies, deal with an organization, make a name and leave. They have little feeling for the work, little integrity and little real depth or vision for the long term future. Indeed, they are often long-term destructive amateurs on a ladder to their own failure. What management often needs is someone who is going to stick with it, not necessarily for ever but to see through the initial honeymoon period and beyond. These 'park it' baggers are analogous to blobby marshmallows who often seem enormous, white and full of substance, but when heated up they rapidly become a sticky mess and most of the substance disappears. What the work needs in any local community is real substance, real commitment and real integrity. There are all sorts of other categories that could be described - benevolent dictators, the macho over-the-top variety, the slurry proponents - but there is one thing common to all management - conflict. Youth work is essentially about caring, compassion, sensitivity, love and spirituality, yet it is also about handling the nasty bits. Both sides are always demanding of leadership - the ability to face problems and tackle issues which in many cases are unforeseen. This contradiction is not an easy thing to come to terms with. It can produce stress and nearly always produces excitement.
The youth service, as we have known it, may be suffering from the reversed Jurassic Park Dinosaur syndrome. It seems sometimes to be waiting for the meteor to strike to wipe it out. This may be a result of cuts, it may be concerned with other issues. From my perspective there is something of a contradiction here. We consistently see encouraging practice and dedicated people involved in youth work. Their praises are rarely sung and their dedication rarely recognized. I do not believe that this dedication is rare.
Youth work is voluntary, independent, unique and vital. At its core are care, compassion, fun and love. In its heart is a sometimes indefinable spirit. It also deals with the nasty bits beloved by the media but, nevertheless, very real for the workers and young people. Sometimes it does seem like 'the Youth of England are on fire' (Henry V). However, I like to think of this fire as being in the belly. As such it can help release a potential for the future which is dynamic, different, challenging and healthy. Yet my fear is that this fire may be of society's own alienated hell. No investor can change this sort of hell, the people involved can. As to the real conclusion, it's not only my responsibility but yours as well. Management should not only look to the future, it should plan for the future. Young people are the future. They are our inheritance.
Charlie Harris is Director of Youth Projects (England and Wales) for the Rank Foundation.
First published in Mark K. Smith (ed.) (1993) Setting up and managing projects, London: YMCA George Williams College/Rank Foundation.