Our Thoughts - Kaz Stuart
For this month’s Our Thoughts, the Centre’s Director of Strategy and Learning Kaz Stuart reflects on why we, as a sector, should champion practitioner-led publications, and shares tips on how to get started on your own writing journey.
We have recently developed a Resource Hub packed full of accessible and practical tools and theory to support practitioners on their “impact to improvement journey”. Whilst developing the hub, we had difficulty finding examples of case studies and publications written by practitioners, which we wanted to highlight to ensure the Resource Hub is both for and of the sector. This in turn has made me think about the availability of publications written by practitioners.
I believe it is highly important for practitioners to be given the space and opportunity to write about what they are doing, and not because I myself have found it easy - that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have never been a natural writer. I stumbled out of school bullied and broken with a clutch of CSEs and little academic prospect. I’ve continually heard my worst inner critic tell me I have nothing to say, and ‘imposter syndrome’ convince me that I’ll be found out as an idiot in youth practitioner clothing. If anything, the voice has got louder as I’ve become allegedly more qualified to write, disproving the myth that writing only feels daunting at the start of your career. Sometimes, the worst has come true and things I have written have received scathing reviews, but I live to tell the tale, a stronger and wiser person.
So why should anyone try to write, if it can be such a painful process? The key principle in my assertion that practitioners should publish is grounded in the notion of a knowledge democracy. The term refers to a world where knowledge is created by a diverse range of people – not just white, middle-class academics or politicians. Our sector’s knowledge democracy tends to be dominated by academics (such as myself, latterly), think tanks, theorists, and policymakers, all of whom may be removed from the realities of front-line practice. As such, practitioner knowledge, or practice-based evidence documenting the uniqueness and nuance of youth provision, is seldom heard in the knowledge economy.
How often have you thought that someone else must have solved the very problem you are facing? By sharing our experiences, we can also help colleagues advance their own practices. I used to worry everything had already been written about and no one would be interested in what I wrote (perhaps they weren’t!). However, every practitioner’s work is unique – who you are, your career stage, the setting you work in, and the practice you are engaged in all mix to create a new angle or perspective on youth provision that can ultimately benefit peers and generate invaluable learning for the sector.
‘We’ - the youth sector - often complain that key power holders do not understand us or what we do. Rather than expecting sceptical and busy stakeholders to seek out that knowledge, we can make the task easier for them by placing that knowledge under their noses. At the Centre, we are finding ways to collectively communicate the impact of youth provision. For example, our new Data Portal is freely available to the sector and enables organisations to evidence outcomes across a shared outcome domain using shared measurement tools.
Even if you already possess the will to write, it can also be difficult to know where to begin. A good way to start publishing is to write internal practice pieces for colleagues in your organisation, sharing top tips on best practice or posing solutions to challenges you have encountered. You could progress to writing an organisation blog in an informal style. I found writing for practitioner magazines to be a comfortable space, as they typically opt for an informal writing style that suits me. My first publication ‘Does My Bum Look Big in This’ in the Horizons magazine explained how we had offered a body image programme at an outdoor centre for young women and the issues of wearing harnesses and helmets. Additionally, Children and Young People Now might be a good place to start too, as it is a regular publication designed for practitioners.
There are some publishers that support new authors – the Social Publishing Foundation (SPF), for example, helps practitioners to write their own articles, providing feedback and support until the work is published. SPF also publishes young people’s articles, giving them an important voice. More academic journals such as the Journal of Youth Studies or Youth and Policy might feel a stretch right now, but teaming up with an academic from a local university might gain you support to publish in that style. I particularly enjoyed pairing up with Emma Perris, then of the Foyer Federation, to write an academic paper explaining how we adopted an asset-based approach to the development of their theory of change.
If you’re thinking of writing, please do – the sector needs your voices and experiences! If this blog has whetted your appetite to write, we’re looking to feature guest blogs on equity, quality, impact, and improvement in the youth sector. Just contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.