From evidence-based practice to data-driven decision making, the role of data in driving everything forward is becoming omnipresent. As a recovering quantitative sociologist this excites me. As a person devoted to building the field and making a difference in the lives of youth it raises both opportunities and concerns.
Like driving a car, youth work is a navigational sport filled with hundreds of decisions on a moment-by-moment basis. Whether it is the development of the field of youth work or the development of a young person, we process thousands of bits of data to make decisions.
But the data driving these decisions, like many others, are a real mix -- some conscious and quantitative and some unconscious; some rational and some emotional. We drive differently when we are angry than when we are happy.
If youth work is to become a data-driven field, we had better make sure we know what that means and take a strong role in shaping the data available and how they are used.
In driving the field of youth work there are decisions at many levels. Decisions at the policy level about what we fund and support, how and for whom. Decisions on the system level about what quality looks like and who is qualified to practice. Decisions at the program level about what we offer and how it's designed. Decisions at the offering or activity level as a youth worker plans and executes part of a program. And then there are the decisions by each youth, which shapes the experience for themselves and for others.
As several new books point out, from David Brooks's The Social Animal to Incognito: The secrets of the Brain by David Eagleman -- we are learning that more and more of the data driving our decisions are collected and processed unconsciously -- not in some simple rational, conscious and largely cognitive ways.
Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of thinking about how we collect and use data on young people's learning, especially but not solely about non-formal learning in out-of-school-time opportunities. Data that can help us to drive decisions on what we do and how we do it with respect to the learning and development of young people.
Learning is about both the journey (the levels of quality in a program, a young person's engagement, and opportunities for youth to contribute) as well as how the journey helps youth get to critical destinations or outcomes.
What mix of data do you think should drive our field and the practice of youth work?