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Smart Youth Work


Due to changes in society and the development of technology, the methods for youth work have to change. It is crucial not only to adapt to the changes or to move at the same speed, but also to try to be half a step ahead. There is no doubt – youth work should be SMART, digitally.


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It is important to recognise that young people are in the forefront of this digitalising world always full of new IT solutions. To support young people in achieving their potential and making decisions that affect their lives, as well as in their active participation in society and coping on the job market, youth work has an important role – therefore it has to follow in their footsteps.

The Estonian SMART concept in general means being innovative and not only responsive but also proactive in overcoming challenges. It is about trying new methods, involving new target groups and of course, in to a great extent, it means the use of technology. Being SMART is not only a fancy trend but a pragmatic choice, as, for example, in a Europe that is lacking people and in particular young people, we should solve difficult problems, as well as reach out to underpopulated areas and districts with fewer resources. Various technological solutions allow youth workers to reach more young people more efficiently and productively, including taking into account the specifics of regions where many youths lack the opportunity to visit youth work institutions. For today’s “digital natives”, information technology is a suitable environment. They feel comfortable using the devices which can offer opportunities and services in a fitting manner and “language” and do so based on the objectives of youth work.

Smart youth work is not an activity or method in itself, nor does it replace existing practices.

NB! Nothing stays apart

Smart youth work is part of the youth field, its activities are based on the principles and general objective of youth policy and youth work, and it supports achieving this objective. Smart youth work is not an activity or method in itself, nor does it replace existing practices. Youth and youth workers are able to create innovative solutions (including digital solutions) for coping with both current problems and new challenges respecting core values of youth work. Smart youth work activities are based on the needs of young people and youth workers, take into account developments in society and technology, including globalisation, networking and e-solutions, and offer alternatives to traditional approaches in youth work. It creates possibilities for experimenting, making mistakes and learning from experience. This solutions are means of creating content or carrying out activities. The objective of smart solutions is to engage in youth work more efficiently and productively than before, i.e. to reach more youths, increase opportunities to develop youth creativity, self-initiative and cooperative activity, reduce the potential for the exclusion of youth, increase engagement of youth as well as to improve readiness for the job market and support their active participation in communities and decision-making.

Smart Youth Work goes European

As an advocate for innovation and digital development in general and in the youth field in particular, the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU was connected with digital issues and the concept of smart youth work was introduced on the EU level. As a result of the Presidency, conclusions on smart youth work were adopted by the Council of Youth Ministers. Fortunately, the idea of smart youth work is founded on solid ground and relies on good political background (see the annex to the conclusions). One important pillar was, of course, the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention adopted in 2015, which describes the increasing interest of youth in technology and digital media. Related objectives are the development of digital literacy, coping with risks on the Internet and the need to develop the competency of youth workers, including their ability to make use of digital opportunities in carrying out high-quality youth work.

The ministers concluded that on the EU level, smart youth work means making use of and addressing digital media and technologies in order to:

a) enrich the opportunities of all young people for information, access to youth work, participation, as well as for non-formal and informal learning by exploiting new spaces and formats for youth work in meaningful ways;

b) support the motivation, capacity and competence building of youth workers and youth leaders to be able to develop and implement smart youth work;

c) create better understanding of youth and youth work and support the quality of youth work and youth policy through more efficient use of data-driven developments and technologies for analysing data.

Smart youth work means making use of and addressing digital media and technologies

From now on, the Member States and the Commission are invited to create conditions for smart youth work, where and as appropriate, including: a) developing and implementing smart youth work in youth work and youth policy goals, strategic and financial instruments; b) mapping and addressing the digital gap and inequalities to access the technological developments from the viewpoint of young people, especially those with fewer opportunities, youth workers and youth leaders and other stakeholders supporting youth; c) supporting the development of competencies relevant for smart youth work of young people, youth workers and youth leaders as well as to other stakeholders supporting youth; d) exchanging examples of best practice in the use of digital media and technology.

As the ministers also agreed to continue working together to ensure that these conclusions are acted upon in the context of ongoing work on strategic perspectives for European cooperation in the youth field after 2018, it hopefully also adds new political and monetary resources for the general development of youth work and for empowering smart youth work therein.

Co-Operation, Training, Money

Technology is everywhere, geographically, in the public and private sector, for making money and for achieving a better quality of life. Youth work is not alone and is a policy field equal to others. This means that better use of existing public or commercial technology is important. For this reason, co-operation between public authorities and businesses, especially those who are socially responsible, is inevitable. It is crucial not only to adapt to the changes or to move at the same speed, but also to try to be half a step ahead.

This challenges the competencies of youth workers. The importance of education and training for youth workers on the organisational, national and international level is hard to underestimate. Better knowledge of youth, using and analysing data, being aware of threats also requires certain competencies. And last but not least, youth work needs investments for further development locally, nationally and on the EU level.

by Edgar Schlümmer (2018)

Edgar Schlümmer is Director of Estonian Youth Work Centre and he has participated in the development of youth policy and youth work in Estonia for more than 16 years..

Photos:   © Juha Kiviniemi


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