Data with Soul: Story-telling in Youth Work

Just a few months ago a new website was launched by the team at ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ which seeks to support the “capturing of our practice through a thought-out methodical approach” called ‘Storytelling in Youth Work’.

logo-idywThe initial idea of promoting storytelling for youth work came from a national IDYW conference in 2010 where the storytelling workshops prompted the book, ‘This is Youth Work: Stories from Practice’.  The website has now been primarily developed as a resource for sharing the experience that has come from the workshops that the IDYW team have run.

The site gives a strong account of the benefits of using storytelling and for anyone interested in using their tried and tested workshops it offers support to replicate sessions, or indeed translate them for use in the work setting.  They suggest it could be used in:

  • direct work with young people, including with young volunteers;
  • organisational development through staff training, supervision and monitoring;
  • the teaching and assessment of youth and community work students in higher education;
  • and project evaluation.

It is great to see the extolling of the benefits that come with developing strong narratives around youth work.  It surely has a role to play in making the profession more robust in the face of the testing times that the austerity agenda has forced upon us.

Stories from our practice book

There is an admission that the term ‘storytelling’ lends itself to a more quaint notion of fun anecdotes or to only capturing the best bits, to “uncritically embellish a worker’s or an organisation’s credentials” as they put it.  In fact, the team have provided a good account of the limitations and caveats that come with the use of this methodology and hold it up for us to play with and find out about for ourselves.  If you still have doubts then you will find it also provides solid case studies where youth work practice has been unpicked in order to highlight the skills involved and the unique nature of the educational processes at play.

I, for one, am very welcoming of this new site and the angle it offers on the impact measurement agenda.  It’s my feeling that the idea of communicating youth work’s benefits through a narrative sits better at ease with workers than generating stats and figures and does more credit to youth work processes.  And after all, when you consider that evidence is given to courts in the form of cross-examined stories – why wouldn’t this methodology be robust enough for youth work’s funders?  Perhaps the bigger question here is: would funders and governments care to listen to our stories?

Find the site at

youthworkable logo clear


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