10.4 Quality and innovation in youth work
Although several socio-educational practices in out-of-school settings may fall under the category of youth work, in Italy the youth work professional is still not framed within public laws or regulations. Therefore, there are no specific and consolidated systems of quality assessment applied by public authorities to non-formal education activities in the youth sector.
The development of systems and practices to assure quality youth work, however, is an important topic in the current debate on the legal recognition of youth work and the professional development of the youth worker, as well as in a draft law on youth work recognition that is currently being discussed.
Some Erasmus+ funded projects managed by Italian partners focused on the quality of youth work. For example, “All You Need” aimed at providing practical tools and methods for quality planning, implementation and evaluation of youth work in international projects; “Social Theatre Toolbox” addresses the quality of art-based youth work in the theatre sector; the project “D’ING – designing for learning” focused on two specific competences of the Competence Models (“Understanding and facilitating learning” and “Designing educational programs”); the project “Quality label for ESC volunteering” aims to develop quality standards for youth work with young volunteers; and “E+QUALITY Week” will work to develop management competences in youth work.
Research and evidence supporting youth work
The impact of the Universal National Civil Service
Evaluation studies on the national civil service program include a study conducted by the Zancan Foundation in 2008 and a more recent one conducted by Confcooperative and Studio Cevas in 2017. The first one is based on a comparison between a sample of young people who had finished the program and another who had just started it. The second one, evaluates the effects of civil service on a sample of young volunteers 5 years after its conclusion, in comparison with a control group not involved in the program.
The most highlighted impacts of these studies are the enhancement of relational and communication skills (e.g., listening, knowing how to understand the point of view of others) and the enrichment of one's own network of relationships (e.g., new friendships), including those supporting one's career path. The study by Confcooperative found a significant impact on employability: the incidence of those who had found work was greater among former volunteers than in the control group. Another relevant study conducted by the National Institute for Public Policy Analysis (“Istituto Nazionale per l’Analisi delle Politiche Pubbliche – INAPP”, formerly ISFOL) in 2018 found an association between competences of active citizenship developed during the civil service and employability.
Monitoring and evaluation of educational policies for adolescents
Services and projects carried out in educational spaces for adolescents are monitored by the National Documentation and Analysis Centre for Children and Adolescents (Law 97/2018). The Centre is in charge of a specific study activity on projects and services financed by the National Fund for Childhood and Adolescence (Law 285/1997) (please refer to the paragraph 10.3 for details on youth work projects supported by this Fund). In the annual plan of activities funded by Law 285/1997, a specific expert group coordinated by the Innocenti Institute conduct specific surveys on policies for children and adolescents carried out in the cities to which the funds are allocated.
RAY Project (Research-based Analysis of Erasmus+: Youth in Action)
The National Youth Agency has been involved in the RAY Network since 2015. This network has conducted studies on the results of Erasmus+/Youth in Action (RAY-MON), on the impact on the building capacity of youth workers and youth leaders (RAY-CAP) and on the long-term effects of the programs (RAY-LTE_CIT).
In particular, in Italy the RAY-CAPproject carried out by the ANG in collaboration with the University of Salerno focused on the effects of the projects funded by Erasmus+/Youth in Action on the capacities of youth workers and youth leaders, on how these capacities are then transferred into practices, and on the systemic effects generated within the their organizations. From the research carried out in Italy, it emerges how participation in Erasmus+ stimulates a greater understanding of the non-formal education process and of the methodologies based on experiential learning (learning by doing and peer education). Moreover, the interviews show the importance of European programs in giving visibility, valorizing and contributing to the recognition of youth work in Italy. The results of the RAY research also support the definition and implementation of training projects for those working in the youth field.
The research on Urban Laboratories of the Bollenti Spiriti programme (Puglia)
Launched in 2006, the youth policy program Bollenti Spiriti in Puglia implemented a number of actions aimed at enhancing young people's skills through the support of youth initiative projects (program “Principi Attivi”, “PIN” and “Mettici le Mani”), the participatory creation of new youth spaces (Laboratori Urbani) and the co-planning of non-formal learning actions for young entrepreneurs (Laboratori dal Basso).
Since 2009, the “Bollenti Spiriti” program has been covered by a series of studies focused on the role and impact of youth work in youth participation processes and non-formal learning experiences. The main research reports produced are listed below:
- Mechanisms and outcomes of youth policies in Puglia (2009-2010), coordinated by Fausta Scardigno and partly published in Scardigno-Manuti (2011);
- “Evaluating youth-work: youth centres as places of non-formal education and participation” (2010-2013)”, PhD research carried out by Morciano Daniele, and published in Morciano e Scardigno (2018), Morciano (2015), Morciano et al. (2015), Morciano et al. (2014), Morciano (2012).
Evaluation of the INSPRIT
INSPIRIT is a three-year project funded by Erasmus+ aimed at the recognition of non-formal education and voluntary experience. The partnership is composed of universities and voluntary associations from Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. The specific objective is to promote the recognition of workcamps coordination experience within academic pathways.
The project started in 2018 and finished in December 2021 with a final publication of the research results from the three countries that joined the project.
A qualitative research action carried out by the Department of Political and Social Studies of the University of Salerno had the objective of studying the impact of the coordination experience of international workcamps on the skills of university students. In addition, a direct and participatory observation of training for young leaders was carried out. The research showed that the students acting as the coordinator of workcamps had the opportunity to experiment non-formal education techniques and methodologies as well as to acquire and improve transversal skills necessary to face the continuous challenges of a globalized and rapidly changing society.
Evaluation of the "Gio-stra" Project.
Financed by a call for proposals by the Department of Youth Policy (Art. 4 of the Ministerial Decree of 21 June 2007) the project "Gio-stra" (Extraordinary Young People/ “Giovani Straordinari”), involved in 2011 nine Salesian oratories in 7 Regions (Piemonte, Liguria, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Campania, Calabria, Puglia, Sicilia). The idea of a specific socio-educational project in the system of oratories stems from the consideration of the strong potential of the oratory as a non-formal education space for youth. The project provided for a specific evaluation of the effects of the activities on children and young people involved, as can be seen in the final report.
Participative youth work
The Universal Civil Service is the only national public initiative in the field of youth work to have created a national consultative body representing young people. This body participates in the Civil Service National Council, a body within which all decisions regarding the planning of civil service are taken.
At the moment, there are no other specific interventions carried out or financed by the national authorities aimed at creating spaces for youth participation focused on youth work policies and practices. For policies aimed at youth participation in the policy-making process, see section 5.4.
The role played by the main consultative bodies activated by national and regional youth policies also includes a role of analysis and proposal about youth workers and youth work practices (in paragraph 10.3.3 reference is made to the initiatives that these bodies have recently undertaken).
Moreover, the national web radio network Ang InRadio created by the National Youth Agency is a specific listening and participation space that involves young people in the reflection, proposal and comparison on non-formal education opportunities, services and projects offered by the plurality of actors involved in youth work in Italy. A specific program of the Department for Youth Policy and Universal Civil Service funded 44 radio projects spread over 13 Italian regions, with the direct involvement of 600 young people and an impact on 150,000 under-30s. Some examples of web radios already active within this network are Radio Das, Youth in Radio Piemonte, Serendipity Puglia, and Youth on Air.
At a regional level, specific participatory processes have been promoted within the youth policy programs supported by the National Youth Policy Fund. For example, in the Bollenti Spiriti program in Puglia Region, informal youth groups and youth associations have been involved in the design, implementation and management of new youth spaces called Urban Youth Laboratories. Please refer to paragraph 10.4.2 for an excursus on some research on participatory processes in these youth spaces.
A national project that promoted the participation of youth associations in the reuse of spaces and the creation of creative incubators was “The Great Beauty. Young talents re-use Italy” (“La grande bellezza. Giovani talenti ri-usano l'Italia”) funded by the Department of Youth and National Civil Service. The project has accompanied groups of young people in the design of projects for re-using abandoned buildings in 5 Regions, supporting the feasibility study, the drafting of a business plan and the development of a participatory management model. Moreover, the project has created a web platform to match the demand and offer of projects of building reuse.
"Smart" youth work: youth work in the digital world
The use of digital media is a necessary part of youth work practices and non-formal activities with young people in Italy. In particular, the use of social media (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc.) is commonly used in combination with face-to-face interaction to give information, keep in touch, discuss issues of interest for young people, offer and share ideas or solutions, social gaming, express and share emotions etc.
These practices increased during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. There are several examples of youth work projects based only on the use of digital media during the lockdown (games, photo contest, digital story telling labs, group and individual counselling, help with schoolwork, counselling for parents, etc.). Webinars have been also offered on how to tackle fake news on social media during the pandemic outbreak (e.g. Get Your Facts Straight!,)
In Italy, there are several public-funded programs and projects aiming at enhancing digital skills among the operators and volunteers working in non-formal education with youth, in youth policy and other policies directed at young people (e.g., employment, leisure time, entrepreneurship, volunteering, vocational training etc.). Furthermore, there is increasing attention towards the development of digital education resources on the safe and positive use of digital media among adolescents and young people.
Programs and initiatives can be found at both national and regional levels, as well as in EU-funded partnership projects coordinated by an Italian partner.
Examples of programs or tools at a national or regional level are: information platforms developed in the frame of youth policy (e.g. the Youth Portal of the Italian Eurodesk network; regional platforms such as Giovanisì in Toscana Region), national programs for media education run by non-profit organizations and supported by the national or regional authorities (e.g. Generazioni Connesse, https://paroleostili.it/), foresight-for-the-future digital events (e.g. Quale Futuro - Visionary Days).
Finally, several examples of projects supported by Erasmus+ and with a focus on digital youth work have been developed and led by Italian youth work organizations. For example, DeDAC aims at training youth workers on digital advocacy, The art of making promotes digital audiovisual media as part of the daily work of youth workers, Coding for Learning is focused on the use of digital coding and IT programming. The development of learning and participation communities is the main objectives of the project Social Media to Activate Youth and Communities, while Escape from marginalisation aims to empower youth workers with digital skills, specifically with the use of gaming to engage with the most vulnerable youth groups.