This was primarily a qualitative study of youth work practice and education and training for youth workers in Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales. It drew upon a desk-based review of youth work and youth work training, and interviews with key stakeholders in each country. The research focused primarily on describing and evaluating current practice, although it also traced the roots (or history) of youth work and education and training provision in each country. 

Desk based review 

The desk-based review drew upon sources such as:

This was complemented by a scoping search for other literature (such as research findings, reviews, policy documents) using the following search strategy:

  • Search terms:  (i) “Youth work”[[1]] AND training AND [country e.g. Wales, Estonia etc] AND History ; and (ii) “Youth work” AND training OR course AND [country] AND Evaluation OR Review OR Research OR Quality OR Standards
  • Languages: English (Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales) and Estonian (in Estonia only) and Macedonian (in North Macedonia only).
  • Sources searched: Google and Google Scholar, using national Google to increase the relevance of searches (i.e. (UK); (Ireland); (North Macedonia) or (Estonia)). Academic (e.g. university) databases were also searched where partners had access to them. 

Items such as research reports, journal articles or policy documents identified through searches were reviewed to determine if they were: 

  • relevant (e.g. they described the history of youth work and/or youth work training); and
  • of reasonable quality (e.g. were from a reputable or respected source, such as university, respected NGOs or institutions like the EU or CoE, and were judged to be credible and accurate by reviewers). 

Items considered not to be relevant and/or of poor quality were not included.The scoping reviews were stopped once:

  • no new information was being identified and each subsequent item reviewed only included data that had already been collected; and/or 
  •  the quality and/or relevance of each subsequent item reviewed dropped sharply (so no new material that could be included was being identified)[2]

Key stakeholder interviews 

The desk-based review was enriched by a small number of interviews (n=23) with key stakeholders in each country; this comprised interviews with: 

  • five experts responsible for the development of youth work curricula in three colleges since the 1990s in Estonia; 
  • two youth service managers, one university lecturer, one representative from Limerick Education and Training Board and one youth work practitioner in Ireland; 
  • 10 representatives of youth organisations working on recognition of youth work in North Macedonia; and 
  • interviews with representatives of the Interim Youth Board (which represents the youth sector); Education Training Standards (ETS) Wales (which professionally endorses programmes of training for youth workers) and one  local authority youth service in Wales.  

Study strengths and constraints 

The study was able to draw upon local insight, knowledge and networks in each country, which supported the identification and engagement of the small purposive samples of interviewees in each country. The views of these interviewees were triangulated with data collected from secondary sources (through the literature review), providing confidence in their credibility. 

However, particularly in relation to policy-making (including the development of education and training), it was often impossible to create a single “true” account. Different stakeholders have different and sometimes competing interpretations of how policy was made, and they rarely have an overview of the whole process, such as the decisions of all the key actors involved. 

Evaluating the effectiveness of youth work education and training is also challenging. It is inherently difficult to evaluate as, for example, education and training is only one of multiple factors which will affect youth work practice (assuming one wanted to judge the efficacy of education and training in terms of effects upon youth work practice).  Moreover, whilst the evidential base is growing, robust evaluation evidence on the overall effectiveness of the youth work sector is limited (see e.g. Dunne et al., 2014). To a large extent this reflects the degree of contingency (and dependency upon context) and the dynamic relationship between young people and youth workers through which outcomes are generated, which makes it difficult to isolate youth work’s contribution from other factors driving outcomes (see e.g. Ord et al., 2018).

Finally, the importance of context in shaping policy, practice and outcomes, means the transferability of specific findings to other contexts may be limited.

[1] The search terms were translated into Estonian and Macedonian. 

[2] This is known as “data saturation”, the stage in the research when no new data (or information) is discovered.