10.4 Quality and innovation in youth work
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In Finland youth work is statutory service, which is regulated by the law entitled the Youth Act. Based on that act, the responsibility for youth work rests with the local government (in Finland these local self-governing entities are called municipalities, see Glossary). They are, with due consideration to local conditions, obligated to create the necessary preconditions for local youth work and activities by providing services and premises for young people and by supporting their civic engagement. The Local Government Act, on the other hand, says that municipalities shall perform functions that they choose for themselves by virtue of their self-governing status and shall arrange the functions provided for them separately by law. What can be seen as a first step of quality assurance for local youth work, is that youth work, just as any other service, must have some specific targets relevant to the nature of the work. Moreover, the Local Government Act stipulates that the ‘municipality’s operating and financial targets shall be approved in the budget and financial plan.’
The local body responsible for assessing the extent to which the operating and financial targets set by the local council have been achieved in the municipality, is working under the council and referred to as the Local Authority Audit Committee. Both the Youth Act and the Local Government Act also recognise the active role the (young) citizen ought to have in service planning, but still young people are quite seldom heard in setting targets for youth work or in evaluations. This fact is also highlighted in the the report (2020) of yearly realised nation-wide evaluations of basic services by the Regional State Administrative Agencies (see Glossary). Based on the Government Decree on Youth Work and Youth Policy, the regional state administrative agencies are responsible for assessing the adequacy, quality and accessibility of the services intended for young people. Because youth work is a statutory service, the youth work services are also evaluated by the regional agencies of the state. The main idea of these evaluations is to measure whether a Finnish citizen can have equal services regardless of where the person is living. The evaluations also monitor how and to what extent the municipalities are fulfilling their obligations (regarding youth work), as stated in the Youth Act, for example. The agencies choose which aspect of the evaluation they will concentrate on each year, while the latest report deals with the adequacy of the services.
In the latest report of the Regional State Administrative Agencies (2021), the adequacy of youth work services open to all young people were evaluated as being at quite a good level, as were the services of outreach youth work and youth workshops (see more of open youth work Youth Wiki/Finland 10. Overview Youth Work and about outreach youth work and youth workshops Youth Wiki/Finland 4.7 Youth work to foster social inclusion). Due to the pandemic, the municipalities were less able to continue open (face-to-face) services at youth centres or international projects, but instead they were doing outreach youth work and online youth work more often.
Results from the assessment of open youth work services for 18 years old and above indicate that there aren’t enough such services, while the report also provides area-specific details, indicating which areas have adequate services, as well as which areas are in need of improvement, also municipal level information is available (see Finnish Youth Work Statistics). The results of the evaluation of the basic services is part of the basic public services programme procedure, which in turn belongs to the negotiation process between the central and local government and is part of the central government’s budget preparations. The results of the evaluation hopefully also have an impact on service planning at the local level within the municipalities, which is supported by the personnel of Regional State Administrative Agencies who provides information guidance, and who also administers the state funding for youth work quality development projects at the local and regional level (see for example the project entitled Taking the multifaceted evaluation tool into use developed for open youth work financed by the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southwestern Finland.)
Although Finland does a lot when it comes to youth work quality assurance, still, there is a need for further development related to open youth work, such as a nation-wide quality evaluation model and key-figures documentation system. Further development of those is one of the tasks the Ministry of Education and Culture has listed to be fulfilled by the new Youth Work Centres of Expertise. (See more information about the centres Youth Wiki/ Finland 1.4 Youth policy decision-making).
As described at length in Youth Wiki/Finland 1.6 Evidence-based youth policy, there is a significant number of activities that to raise the data base available on which the youth policy related decision making can rely on. When it comes to youth work especially, Finnish Youth Work statistics is a portal with national statistics on municipal youth work (the so-called “open youth work”), youth workshops and outreach youth work. One of offices of the Regional State Administrative Agencies administers the portal. The portal has been developed in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Moreover, the bodies referred to as Youth Work Centres of Expertise have a strong role in creating the database for youth work, since their role is to ‘produce and deliver the necessary information to the Ministry of Education of Culture’, as described in the National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme for the years 2020-2023. Youth Work Centres of Expertise nominated for the years 2020-2024 can be seen in Youth Wiki/Finland 1.4 Youth policy decision-making.)
At the local level, according to the Youth Act, the coordinating body for cross-sectoral cooperation set by the local government is required to gather information on young people's growth and living conditions, and to distribute this information to decision-makers in order to broaden the database the decision-making processes are based on. (See more on research and evidence in Youth Wiki/Finland 1.6 Evidence-based youth policy).
As reported in the following chapter (Youth Wiki/Finland 10.5 Youth Workers), Finnish higher education is comprised of universities and universities of applied sciences, many of which offer youth work related scientific studies. As such, there has been many youth work-related theses over the years, even at a doctoral level. There are also two strong research institutions in the field, namely a scientific association called the Finnish Youth Research Society and Juvenia – Youth Research and Development Centre, located in South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences.
Many NGOs working in the youth field are also producing evidence-based information. The Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi has participated in producing surveys on Finnish youth work done in the national, sub-local and local youth organisations (2021, in Finnish). Taloustutkimus Research Company implemented the latest survey about volunteer work in Finland (2021, in Finnish) on behalf of Citizen Forum. Many surveys made in the third sector are implemented with cooperation of various actors, such as the above mentioned scientific associations, youth work centres of expertise, NGOs and private companies.
Youth work as such is based on giving young people an active role in planning, realising and evaluating its activities. Youth Act reflects that in versatile ways. It states that young people must be given opportunities to take part in the handling of matters related to youth work and youth policy. At the national level, young people ‘are to be consulted in the course of preparation’ of the National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme. Also, the Youth Act itself, like all legislation, is due to consultation processes whenever renewed. Youth Wiki/ Finland 5.4 Young people's participation in policy-making offers an in-depth description of such a consultation.
As stated in Youth Act, the responsibility to carry out youth work in the municipalities (see Glossary)) ‘rests with the local government.’ On the other hand, like the Act reminds, local governments should not ‘perform the duties’ alone, but ‘co-operate’ with other authorities, young people, their families, youth work organisations, congregations and other parties engaged in youth work. The legislative basis that ensures young people’s rights and channels to participate, starting from the Constitution itself, is described in Youth Wiki/ Finland 5.4 Young people's participation in policy-making. Apart from evaluating the nation-wide existence and accessibility of the public services, such as youth work services in municipalities performed by local governments, the Regional State Administrative Agencies (see Glossary) also ask the municipalities if young people are included in planning, realising and evaluating those services. The reason for this two-fold approach lies in the Finnish legislation: the availability of the services is not seen to be enough alone, while the quality of the services is seen to have its basis in how young people’s knowledge, experiences and preferences at all stages of service-development are taken into account, such as creating, maintaining or sharing the services.
Finland has a long 40-year history of digital youth work. Youth work also receives support for digital development from the highest administrative bodies. In 2016, the Finnish Government described the importance of digitalisation in youth work in the following way: 'The digital world as an operating environment, which includes social media, has broadened and diversified the ways young in which people go for free-time activities, make impact, participate and communicate. Youth work is encountering service needs and challenges in the digital environmental, while the need to meet individuals and groups face to face has remained the same. These changes encourage youth work to function in new environments.’ (PG 111/2016/Proposal of the Finnish Government to Parliament regarding the content of the Youth Act).
One of the main objectives of the National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme 2020–2023 is that ‘Young people have an opportunity to participate in a hobby they enjoy.’ The possibilities of digital technology have been recognised, and as such form the basis of one of the measures, suggesting to the municipalities that they have ‘trials of new types of instructor-led activities that will be made available in which digital media and technology will be used as a tool, content or the operating environment.' The Ministry of Education and Culture is coordinating the efforts related to this objective of the programme.
As mentioned earlier, in the section on 'Quality assurance', the Regional State Administrative Agencies assess the adequacy, quality and accessibility of the youth work services organised at the local level. Based on that assessment, in 2021 (published in 2022), about 80 % of the 293 municipalities were offering digital youth work when it was asked, when youth workers are using or dealing with digitality or technology in youth work, either in a physical or digital environment (see Finnish Youth Work Statistics). According to the Nuorisoalan järjestöt NYT! (Youth Work Organisations NOW!) -survey made by the Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi and the Youth Work Centre of Expertise Kentauri, especially the nation-wide youth organisations were organising online youth work services, such as events and education, in 2020. Another survey, also organised in 2019, by Verke - the National Development Centre for Digital Youth Work in Finland (infographic available about the results) — provides data that is actually gathered during the local digital youth work processes: 91% of youth workers have youth work interaction with young people via social media or messaging applications, and for example, 19% of this interactions include organised activities that incorporate digital games.
Besides the local services, there are several national-level digital youth work services. Several non-governmental organisations working at the national level are subsidised, for example, by the Ministry of Education and Culture for doing digital youth work, such as the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, which is famous for its way of engaging young people when creating content for its online youth services, for example, in the form of a MLL Young Web Editors.
Mrs Suvi Tuominen, Project manager of Verke, estimates that the Covid-19 epidemic in Spring 2020 significantly changed the landscape of digital youth work, in that digitality grew substantially as the main working environment for youth work. Some examples of this kind of development are easy to find. Based on the Into – Association for Outreach Youth Work and Workshop Activities estimates, based on their survey (results in Finnish), 90 % of outreach youth work was realised online in Spring 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the kind of example where digitality has been able to offer a platform and / or an environment so as to realise discussions (chat), counselling (opening hours to ask for help), sharing information (blogs) and organising small group meetings for example in 'Discord' (see the Finnish version). Discord has also been the platform used by the municipalities of the region of Southern Savo to offer and hold a space, when the physical locations of youth centres, with their evening and weekend activities, were closed (see a YouTube video in Finnish on how to access the platform). The virtual space was multi-purpose: an open youth centre to meet others, help with homework and a music club with concerts. This regional activity has proven itself as ‘here to stay’, it is currently ongoing, and is planned to continue after the epidemic is over. Also worth noting is that there are several municipalities in Finland that were not able to move their physical youth work activities into the digital environment, for example, because the youth workers were laid off due to the epidemic.
Suvi Tuominen continues, that on the other hand, some of the changes in digitality may be short-lived once the most critical times are over, while there were also plenty of digital actions that were impossible to realise during the epidemic – in addition, many digital activities can also only be accomplished by being in the same physical environment, see for example one before the epidemic from City of Lappeenranta youth services called Space Team – Digital Games in Lappeenranta. (This Digital Youth Work -project Lappeenranta and Verke co-operated in was funded by Erasmus+, besides of local funding from the city and national funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture). The high level of multiplicity in digital youth work is something which will hopefully be regained after the epidemic, meaning that in addition to being an environment for youth work, it can also, again, be used a tool, an activity or source of content, too (see European Commision 2018).
State funding for a digital approach to youth work and youth information as well as counselling services in local and regional level are shared by the Regional State Administrative Agencies. The annual cost has been approximately one million euros in recent years. (More about digital youth work, see Youth Wiki/Finland 8.7 Fostering the creative use of new technologies and 6.8 Media literacy and safe use of new media.)
Like mentioned earlier, Verke regularly organises surveys in order to find out what youth workers actually do under the title ‘digital’ and also to find out, what kind of training needs the field has. According to the survey ‘Kunnallisen nuorisotyön digitalisaatio 2021’ (The Digitalisation in Municipal Youth Work 2021, in Finnish), digital youth work has has been a more popular approach during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the digitality in physical services and functions has decreased. Many participants agreed that their digital competence has increased during the pandemic and they are using photo and video editing applications, Microsoft Teams, Discord and TikTok significantly more than in 2019. On the other hand, the “jump” to digital environments during the pandemic was described as a necessity without a proper implementation plan, and the quality assurance concerning digital shift was managed too lightly, without much possibility to learn from the pandemic circumstances.
In the next chapter of Youth Wiki/Finland 10.5 Youth Workers the Finnish broad system for ‘Education, training and skills recognition’ are described based on researcher Tomi Kiilakoski’s publication called Youth Work Education in Finland. As Kiilakoski describes: ‘Finland has developed an educational system for youth work that spans all levels of the educational system.’ Moreover, there are, like Kiilakoski names, hundreds of seminars and courses related to youth work in the non-formal education field organised by Regional State Administrative Agencies or several state-subsidised bodies like the Youth Work Centres of Expertise, such as, for example the aforementioned Verke. Among the offered content for the trainings, digital youth work is well represented in Finland, even though there is still a need to have youth work centres of expertise to spread digital youth work knowhow, as mentioned in the new National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme for the years 2020-2023. (See more about youth work centres of expertise for the years 2020-2024 in Youth Wiki/Finland 1.4 Youth policy decision-making).
Youth work centres for expertise work also as means for facilitating cooperation and partnerships in order to support the transmission of digital practices and technology between youth work and actors in other fields working with young people. It is also worth noticing, that youth work organisations using online environments have also built their own self-regulating body called Nusuvefo, meaning ‘Network of Practitioners Working with Online Services Aimed at Young People’ (about the network in Finnish). The network has been in use since 2007 and produced for example ethical principles and codes of accessibility, that facilitate their use in practice.