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Assessing needs … and making a difference!

I am currently helping a large voluntary sector organisation refocus strategically and operationally, whilst developing a sustainable platform for the future, following a 21.5% reduction to its core budget from its local authority. The work involved is taking in a range of arenas: vision and purpose; strategic objectives … now and for the future; its value proposition; its added value; key competitors and what staff believe should be the major goals for the organisation for the period 2011-2105. The change process is based on a very inclusive approach and all staff have had an opportunity to share their views and opinions. I have thus far experienced both polar opposite and virtually identical positions, which is probably what you might expect?

However, the process has raised for me, most particularly, interesting perspectives on effective needs analysis and real evidence of impact – do they really understand the needs of young people … and … does their youth work make a real difference in the lives of young people? I believe they do and that it does … but not robustly enough!

This has called into question how they demonstrate both, especially at a time when their value proposition needs to be very focused and somehow differentiated [and their focus on needs-led is a key element of this]; and, also at  a time when commissioners and funders will increasingly be interested in strong evidence of impact.

Today I was comparing this thinking with reading of submissions to the Select Committee on Services to Young People. They make for interesting reading, if at times, in some cases, they are somewhat self-promoting! They can be seen at http://bit.ly/e8oL3D. Whilst there is ever thus a dogged debate about universal versus targeted work [more on that another time], it is clear that most writers note the need to engage actively with young people around needs and beyond! It is also clear that there is a mixed opinion about the value of targets, indicators and the like – with some services abandoning the four typical remnants of Resourcing Excellent Youth Work and others continuing with them in the absence of something better. What I don’t see clearly is evidence of ‘something better’!

My view is that, in the highly competitive market place organisations now inhabit, clear evidence about impact is an absolute must! What form it takes and how it is presented is of some consequence but the underlying message is that it must demonstrate tangible value to and impact upon the lives, choices, opportunities and involvement of young people … why else would a commissioner or funder offer money?

On the other hand, how are young people being actively engaged in the creation of local and national policy at this time? It appears to me sporadic and patchy and I personally feel that young people still seem to be largely ignored! Bill Badham has written a great blog that highlights the risks associated with not engaging young people at a time of change – http://www.practicalparticipation.co.uk/blog/ – and I recommend it to all readers.

So, the path is clear – effectively engage, despite the financial woes and other worries that beset us, and make sure you demonstrate real impact … with tangible evidence to back up your views!

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