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Our Thoughts - Steve Hillman


They are still part of the daily news bulletin. The numbers: how many new hospitalisations, how many deaths within 28 days of a positive covid test.  But the full force of the pandemic seems somehow further away.  If not a distant memory, then for many of us, not a daily preoccupation as it was during the peaks of 2020 and early 2021. 

As life returns to some semblance of ‘normality’, albeit with some notable changes, we can begin trying to understand the trauma we have all faced and lived through.  Beneath the numbers are millions of individual stories, experiences of the pandemic that are unique and specific to each one of us.  Perhaps because the pandemic was genuinely universal, something we all experienced and something none of us could avoid, it seems that there is greater interest in hearing about those unique and individual experiences.  In the power of storytelling as a tool for learning and understanding.

Through our networks, we have picked up significant renewed interest in participative models of evaluation that avowedly aim to gather these unique stories and give them a platform to be heard.  In North West England in June, for example, we heard about the Partibridges project: how they had to pivot their evaluation planning as the pandemic hit, until it became much more about hearing the stories of individual young people’s experience.  Many recent regional impact network meetings have had space to look at creative approaches to evaluation that allow young people to represent their experiences in non-traditional ways.  And there is a renewed sense of urgency around listening to young people and creating the right kind of organisational systems and processes to enable this.

Charles Smith’s piece in last month’s newsletter about compassionate evaluation also got us thinking about the role and purpose of evaluation in these (post) pandemic times.  As well as generating new knowledge and insight, can evaluation have a role in helping us all, especially young people, to process experiences that at the time felt overwhelming?  This offers the opportunity for added value in the evaluation process as well as the outcome. 

The COVID-19 learning projects that have sprung up so far have, perhaps rightly, focused on the best ways of reaching and connecting with young people in an environment of lockdown and social distancing (spoiler alert: it was challenging for all concerned, and – whilst there are some things we want to retain, there are many we’re collectively ready to consign to history).  But is there a need for another learning project, as we start the return to face to face work, to gather the stories of our collective experience, and in so doing create the time to process it?  And are there things we have learnt about ourselves, about young people, about our sector during the pandemic that we can take forward into the future?