Youth Workers as Practitioner-Researchers: Some thoughts and relevant readings

I heard a colleague of mine recently explain to a student that ‘research shouldn’t be oppressive’. That is, while we must recognise the process of doing research as complicated, arduous, and challenging, it will also (hopefully!) be something you can/will enjoy.  Undoubtedly there will be frustrations along the way, but there is also a huge sense of satisfaction in producing research that can contribute positively to young people’s lives and to youth work knowledge, policy, and practice.

On that note, I’ve been reading recently a number of articles that nicely the position of youth workers as practitioner-researchers from a strengths-based perspective. This picks up on the theme of last year’s 2nd European Convention on Youth Work, which aptly imagined youth workers as superheroes super-super-heroes!:

The Overall Feeling we are Super-super-heroes

2nd European Youth Work Convention: The Overall Feeling we are Super-super-heroes

One such example (which I have saved to your Dropbox folder) is Sinéad Gormally and Annette Coburn’s (2014) article, in which they argue that:

theory and practice in educational youth work offers a position of strength from which to undertake research. In making this assertion, we suggest cross-disciplinarity between youth work and research practices in order to build research mindedness among youth workers who, through this nexus, are well-placed to engage in practice based research. (Gormally and Coburn, 2014: 869)

This article, in particular, will be helpful to you in informing your reflections and decision-making on the purpose of your research – what it is that you hope to achieve, or the ‘so what?’ question that is so important (alongside the what, how, why, where, when, who questions that you will need to address in your dissertations).  If your research is to be transformative, with respect to knowledge, policy, and/or practice, then you need to think about what research is for. 

Cullen, Bradford and Green (2012) also point out that you should be ‘clear about your study’s focus, purpose and audience’ (5).  Since yours is a Masters dissertation, that triad is partly informed by the requirements of the University.  Beyond that, however, the research is also for a much broader audience and purpose: for young people, for their families and communities, for other youth/arts/sports practitioners, for policy-makers, for organisations, for youth work as a profession, etc.

Furthermore, Cullen at al (ibid) usefully outline five principles that characterise social research, namely, that it should be:

  • Systematic
  • Critical
  • Self-critical
  • Enquiry-centred
  • Knowledge and practice-centred

The authors explain these principles in-depth as they relate to practitioner-research, and I recommend reading these closely as you begin to position yourselves with respect to your roles as youth workers and practitioner-researchers.

References and further reading:

Cullen, F., Bradford, S. and Green, L. (2012) ‘Working as a practitioner-researcher’. In Bradford, S. and Cullen, F. (eds.) Research and Research Methods for Youth Practitioners Oxon and New York: Routledge

Bamber, J., Power, A. and Rowely, C. (2012) ‘Speaking Evidence to Youth Work – and Vice Versa’, A Journal of Youth Work, (10), pp. 37–56.

Cooper, T. (2012) ‘Models of youth work : a framework for positive sceptical reflection’, Youth & Policy, 1(109), pp. 98–117.

Davies, B. (2005) ‘Youth Work: A Manifesto For Our Times’, Youth & Policy, (88), pp. 5–27.

Gormally, S. and Coburn, A. (2014) ‘Finding Nexus: Connecting youth work and research practices’, British Educational Research Journal, 40(5), pp. 869–885.

Spence, J. and Wood, J. (2011) ‘Youth Work and Research: Editorial’, Youth & Policy, (107), pp. 1–17.


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