Review of Story-telling Workshops: 2013

The facts

  • Ten workshops were run over the year:
    • Six at higher education institutions (Manchester, Staffordshire, MarJon Plymouth and Coventry Universities; at Sheffield Hallam University in partnership with YASY; and at the Carlow Institute for HE in Ireland).
    • One hosted by Limerick Youth Service, plus the ‘Share our Stories’ European youth workers project which drew on the IDYW approach and had two IDYW facilitators.
    • One hosted by Walton Youth Project, Liverpool which provided a first opportunity for using the story-telling approach with young volunteers.
    • One at the Federation of Detached Youth Work Conference.
  • They were attended by between 200 and 250 workers, students, tutors and managers.
  • Five IDYW facilitators were involved, using a ‘script’ developed from the one originally provided by Sarah Banks.
  • All the workshops were based on a template programme lasting 2.5 – 3 hours. This included:
    • A brief explanation of the IDYW story-telling approach as developed since This is Youth Work was published.
    • Concentrated narration and interrogation of a story in groups of 6 – 12.
    • Reflection on what this had revealed about the nature and distinctiveness of youth work as a practice with young people.
    • Where time allowed and with some variations of focus, a final session on defending this practice, messages back to IDYW and the possibility of follow-up locally.
  • A presentation on how IDYW is using story-telling was made at the TAG conference in July.

Evaluation comments from three host agencies: the positives

Content

  • ‘I particularly liked the fact that the group chose the story which created a sense of ownership even if it wasn’t their individual story…’
  • Students able to provide examples of practice in their own setting.’
  • ‘(There was) a lot of discussion about boundaries and ethics which brought up a lot of issues.
  • ‘Good discussion on building relationships with young people and the boundaries involved in that.’
  • Students (were) able to discuss flaws within their own organizations, the college practice and their own practice.’

Process

  • ‘The thorough planning that went into the workshop made its delivery very straight forward.’
  • ‘…the main thing that the workshop provided was an opportunity for a group of youth workers to come together and share experiences’.
  • ‘It really was a pleasure for us to work with (the facilitators).’
  • ‘I believe the style of questioning is a key skill in itself…’

Impact

  • The staff found it really useful in dismissing the ‘it comes naturally’ myth…’
  • ‘… The workshop process … reinforces good practice’.
  • ‘The stories told … seemed to help develop a sense of shared experience between the participants, especially those (who were) local…’
  • ‘The fact that (the workshop) was run by the campaign … attracted a much larger audience than we ever could. I think it also helped local youth workers to ‘see’ the campaign (as opposed to it being some abstract concept).’
  • ‘Being involved with the delivery of a workshop helped us .. to feel far more closely connected to the campaign. I like the idea of doing something else together in the future and it is good to know that you would be happy to come back.’
  • ‘(The workshop) helped to position the (university department) locally as taking youth work seriously, not just as a group of people trying to recruit to our courses.’
  • ‘The … workshop has been a catalyst for a significant development (in the area): the development of a (as yet informal) network for youth workers which we have been leading on
  • ‘I think the workshop very clearly demonstrated to people the benefit of coming together to discuss and debate youth work (opportunities for which have been sadly lacking in this area for some years).’

Hosts’ evaluation – the negatives

  • The (practice) example … was in a formal education setting so it (the discussion) lost its way a bit …’

Some facilitator (cautionary) reflections

  • One of the workshops was poorly promoted and organised – indicating a need for hosts to get a tight briefing in advance on how we want the sessions to run – e.g. re timings, rooms, flip charts, etc. with if possible some advance preparation for participants on what to expect.
  • Co-facilitation can be helpful, especially for longer (4 hour) sessions.
  • Story-tellers need to be reassured that the interrogation of their story is not to criticise their practice but to extract from it some defining features of youth work.
  • Particularly when working with young people/young volunteers, it may be helpful to start with ice-breakers, work in smaller sub-groupings and use other group work approaches.
  • In present circumstances it is important to check, and then start from, where participants are starting – particularly in relation to their practice experience and their familiarity (if any) with the IDYW cornerstones. Some jargon-busting may also be needed.
  • Facilitators may also need to be prepared for the possibility that, even though in the briefing participants may have been told to choose a story they felt OK about sharing, a story-teller may get upset while telling their story.
  • As more stories are offered from settings which aren’t open access, the interrogation and final session ‘debriefing’, while acknowledging the value the work described may have had for the young people involved, is likely also to need ask: ‘So … is this is youth work as defined and defended by IDYW; and if not, how/why not? With what implications?’
  • Where possible, facilitators need to find time to ‘debrief’ each other after a session.

Some personal reflections

  • The story-telling approach has I believe provided a way of raising awareness of the campaign both amongst its supporters and also those who knew little if anything about it.
  • My (highly subjective) sense of the process has often been that:
    • it has started with comments and even body language suggesting: ‘So come on: convince me/us. About this story-telling lark. And about IDYW’;
    • once under way, it has generated genuine motivation and energy; and
    • it has helped raise morale, generating (often strongly positive) feedback from many participants, particularly about being able to focus in depth on practice.
  • In doing this, one of my strongest impressions has been that it helps practitioners to a form of learning which is rooted in heightened awareness of and reflection on what they already know. I personally have particularly valued the opportunity for supporting practitioners to identify the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of what they are doing.
  • For doing this, though group participation in a story’s interrogation is clearly to be encouraged/supported, much hinges on the skill of the facilitator and her/his readiness at times to take a strong lead.

The future – key goals:

  • To run 10 – 12 workshops during 2014.
  • With some of these probably needing at least 2 facilitators, to find enough (person) resource within the campaign:
    • actually to run the workshops;
    • to be more proactive in seeking out hosts and venues.

January 2014

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