The Centre for Youth Impact – ten years on
Ten years ago this year, I stood in front of an audience of youth workers to announce the launch of the Centre for Youth Impact. I was energised by a strong sense that a collective conversation about evidence and impact was one worth having, but equally concerned that I had no idea to make that a reality. That mix of feelings often rears its head, even now!
The intervening decade has, in many ways, flown by. This is the longest I’ve ever stayed in one organisation, although the significant evolution of the Centre has often made it feel like a series of different organisations: we became an independent charity in 2017, merged with Project Oracle in 2018, and then with YMCA George Williams College in 2022. And yet, despite ten years of seeking to progress the same foundational conversation that I felt mattered in 2014, my sense is we still have some way to go – with both the Centre for Youth Impact and the conversation itself.
And so, in the Centre’s tenth year, I’ve made quite a big decision to move back into the role of Director of the Centre for Youth Impact and stand down as CEO of YMCA George Williams College. This will enable me to focus completely on the work of the Centre for Youth Impact, alongside its ‘sister’ centres of expertise – Quality Practice and Youth Voice – within YMCA George Williams College.
This has also created an opportunity for a new Interim Executive Director to join the College, working alongside me as Director of the Centres for Youth Impact and Youth Voice, and Kaz Stuart, as Director of Learning and the Centre for Quality Practice. We’re delighted to have been joined by Geethika Jayatilaka in the new Interim Executive Director role, and I’m really looking forward to working with Geethika and Kaz to lead the College into the future.
And what of this future? Despite feeling like we still have some way to go, I can also reflect on the significant distance that we – as a sector – have travelled over the last decade. What was once a rather marginal conversation about evaluation and impact has become decidedly mainstream. Where we could once convene an event and propose just to talk about ‘evaluation’, we’d struggle now to narrow the focus down to just one aspect of how we collectively understand and measure impact. Our language about evidence and impact has become much more our own, rather than uncomfortably inserted into conversations. Our debate has widened, and become so much more nuanced: we’re light years away from the once-binary framing of prove vs improve. Young people are much more involved in how we understand evidence and impact, and we’re getting more sophisticated at bringing concepts together, like understanding the impact of the act of listening to young people. “Measurement” is far less of a dirty word, and we’re expanding our practice to include new ways of ‘measuring’ experiences through observation, perception and voice.
And yet… it still feels to me like the profound shifts in conversation haven’t yet become profound shifts in practice, and I perceive a big accessibility barrier with many of the tools and approaches we (and others) have developed. I still believe in the transformative potential of shared measurement, open datasets and evidence that demonstrates – across multiple settings – that the relationships that sit at the heart of youth work, and the reflective practice that guides them, are the golden threads that ‘create’ change with and for young people. And it’s true that we’re closer to this than ever before. So that’s what I will continue to develop the Centre for Youth Impact to do: to look for opportunities to realise those profound shifts in practice, to reach out widely and deeply across our sector, and to bring us together with a common goals of transformational learning and insight – truly ‘evidence that moves us’. Ten years on, I am still moved by all that I have learned and gained from all of those I’ve connected with over the decade. But I know there’s still a lot more come, and I’m looking forward to that.