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BlogArticlesNurturing recognition in youth work: a collaborative approach with Cities of Learning
Awero team

Nurturing recognition in youth work: a collaborative approach with Cities of Learning

21 Mar, 12:37
Urška Česnik from TiPovej, Ljubljana, shares her reflections on recognition in youth work and the role of the Cities of Learning network, and makes an impassioned call for it to continue flourishing now and in the future.

In the dynamic realm of youth work, recognition plays a pivotal role in shaping its impact and future. After participating in the Value and Recognition of Youth Work event in Zagreb, here are some of my thoughts and reflections, regarding recognition in connection to Cities of Learning – global initiative. I tried to delve into the essence of recognition, drawing insights from the Cities of Learning Network objectives and activities, while reflecting on the broader theories that underpin the recognition of non-formal learning.

Understanding the Cities of Learning Network's recognition journey

The Cities of Learning Network, driven by a commitment to continuous engagement and empowerment, seeks to amplify the influence of youth work in shaping policies at local, regional, national, and European levels. Our objectives are clear:
  • fortify our capacity,
  • enhance collaboration with external partners,
  • increase youth stakeholder participation in digital transformation and
  • support the dissemination of policy recommendations and good practices.
In the quest for sustainable collaboration, Network partners (led by Nectarus and Vilnius City of Learning in Lithuania), acknowledged the need for a more integrated framework. Drawing from youth consultations, policy recommendations, and strategic projects from recent years, the partners articulated activities that manifest as an informal network fostering regular in-person and online networking, ensuring and supporting local and international young people’s engagement while connecting policy and practice.

We could say we try our best to walk as we talk. However, what does this have to do with recognition?

Recognition: a theoretical framework

Recognition, as explored in the “Visible Value” initiative, unfolds in four key areas: Self-Recognition, Social Recognition, Political Recognition, and Formal Recognition.

Self-Recognition: At the heart of this is the acknowledgment of the value of one's own work and that of the community. It involves understanding the impact of youth work, gathering evidence, and continually striving for improvement. Open Badges, a tool for recognition of non-formal learning, support just this and are an integral part of our Cities of Learning platforms.

Social Recognition: Extends beyond self-awareness to the acknowledgment and positive valuation of youth work by societal players, including the public, NGOs, media, and more. It aims to elevate visibility and create a positive attitude towards youth work. And, during the conference, Professor G. Boutsen said that this level of recognition is hard to achieve. We can easily feel discouraged – fighting to be recognised for something we, on the inside, know has a meaningful impact, but maybe those from the outside, without experiencing it, just do not see it.
To paraphrase what he said: “Let us focus on social recognition of youth work, but first we ask ourselves who is the society we are addressing, who do we want to present youth work to and how should we talk to them?”. I agree with him.

Political Recognition: Involves the integration of youth work into policies at various levels, ensuring it becomes a focal point in legislative frameworks and political strategies. This level of recognition is crucial for supporting the involvement of young people and youth work in societal development. Here, as CoL Network we are successful and plan to gradually advance our work. Let us just remind ourselves of the Youth co-designs learning, civic and career pathways that ended in 2022 and the recognition all 600+ young people, youth workers and stakeholders involved contributed to on the topics of non-formal learning, mental health, sustainability, inclusion and participation. Because, let us be true, youth work will always be contextual and political - it does not happen in a vacuum, so all levels of stakeholders and practitioners should be offered a seat at the table, when systematic changes are afoot.

Formal Recognition: Encompasses the validation and certification of learning outcomes in youth work. This involves recognising competencies acquired through non-formal education, accreditation of programmes, licensing of youth workers, and the acknowledgment of youth work as an official occupation. Formal recognition mirrors national realities and is not one of Cities of Learning Network priorities, but we wish to be a part of conversation when the topic is on the table.

Recognition of youth work and Cities of learning. It might not be a direct connection, but once you get to know “us” you see, we actually go hand in hand!

A glimpse into the future

As we contemplate the future of recognition, insights from the Cities of Learning Network and the Visible Value initiative prompt reflection:
  • What role does recognition play in youth work's relevance in a rapidly changing world?
  • How can we focus on social recognition to present youth work effectively to diverse societies?
  • What will youth work look like in 2050, and how can we prepare?
The Cities of Learning Network, through its objectives and activities, sets a precedent for collaborative recognition efforts. Still, let us remember that recognition, whether through self-awareness, societal acknowledgment, political integration, or formal validation, is not an endpoint but an ongoing process.

Here I agree with another panellist at the conference, researcher G. Evard, who explained that recognition of youth work cannot really never be fully reached, because it might imply that the development of youth work therefore can end… and we do not want that!

As we navigate this never-ending journey, the responsibility lies in fostering an environment that creates value, synergy, quality, and inspiration, strengthening the identity and impact of youth work within Cities of Learning and beyond.

Because, as you may have already gathered from reading my reflections, the recognition of non-formal learning in youth work is not merely a theoretical concept; it's a lived experience, actively shaped by initiatives just like the Cities of Learning Network, contributing to a vibrant, evolving tapestry of recognition in the youth work landscape.

So … will you join us in co-creation of this magical tapestry of youth work?

Helping us show that youth work is maybe more relevant and useful than ever before, and that there is a place for it to flourish in today’s and tomorrow’s world!

Written by: Urška Česnik, program manager at TiPovej Institute for creative society and manager of Ljubljana city of learning initiative (Slovenia).

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.