Playing catch-up with the digital (r)evolution

Group photo during the seminar “Developing Digital Youth Work”

In Europe digital youth work methods have seen a significant growth in interest over the last few years. This is a direct result of the increasing prevalence of technology and increased pervasiveness of digital tools and networks in young people’s lives. The use of digital tools is now more commonly than ever accepted as a part of youth work.

“Despite the growing interest in digital youth work, European policies around digitalisation of youth work are behind what is going on in the field”, says Graeme Robertson, business manager of the European youth portal. “We are unfortunately playing catch-up in terms of policy and are in fact running an expert group on this very topic.”

The European Commission appointed the expert group in the summer of 2016. All EU member states have been called upon to name a representative for the group. The group is tasked – among other things – to draft recommendations on how youth workers should be trained in regards to digital tools in youth work. The group has already started working on defining the key competencies around digital youth work, and the first recommendations are scheduled to be completed by the autumn of 2017.

There have also lately been – in addition to the expert group – other strong efforts to rectify the policy situation and fill the need for data on European practices. One of those efforts is the Screenagers research project, a collaborative study focussing on the use of ICT, digital and social media within youth work. The Erasmus+ funded partnership included agencies from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Finland, Austria and Denmark. The research report showed that where ICT is used in creative and innovative ways it offers a highly versatile and powerful tool to support youth work. When planning our seminar it was only natural to base lots of our framework on the findings of this report; the findings even recommend that particularly EU-level strategic actions should be concentrated on practice development and training of youth workers.

“Digital youth work is defined very differently in European countries.” says Suvi Tuominen, project manager of Verke, the finnish national development centre for digital youth work in Finland and a member of the aforementioned expert group. Verke was also heavily involved in the Screenagers research project. “Some countries see social media as a big risk factor for young people and the role of youth work has predominantly been enhancing youngsters’ skills to safely use the web. While some countries can be somewhat lagging behind for example Finland in terms of using social media in youth work, they are often much more advanced in adopting different digital tools, e.g. GPS tracking apps for adventure activities, hacklabs or makerspaces.” There is definitely much to be gained in the mutual exchange of experience and practices on a European level.

Written by the seminar facilitators Nerijus Kriauciunas (Nectarus) and Juha Kiviniemi (Verke). Photo by Juha Kiviniemi.

This is the 1st part of the article “Taking youth work to the digital world”. This article is an outcome of the international seminar “Developing digital youth work”. The seminar was hosted 13 to 17 September 2016 in Oulu, Finland by the Centre of International Mobility (CIMO). This article was first published on Verke’s website. Continue to the next part “Defining the concept of “Digital youth work”.


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