It’s the Soft Outcomes that Matter 

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It’s the Soft Outcomes that Matter

If you are a recent graduate or, currently undergoing a youth work degree amongst the hotly debated topic of open access youth clubs and targeted youth work alongside the demise of the youth service, you will be familiar with soft outcomes. Sounds straightforward, but the difficulties in recording these soft outcomes can become the search for the holy grail.

I suppose that sentiment is an overreaction, however, the zeal with which these outcomes are sought after only emphasizes the importance of those developments the young people demonstrate.

Two different Types of Outcomes?

Since the inception or more appropriately, the growing importance of searching for funding amongst charities within the youth sector is of a significant importance, winning contracts and, receiving much-needed funds to continue delivering a service to young people provides a cyclical process and leaves the charity at the mercy of the funding organisation.

Additionally, funding cuts to the youth service has increased the importance and competitiveness in applying for those funds.
Therefore, it is vitally important to achieve the targets that are set out by the said organisations.

The targets, also known as hard outcomes set by the funders can be evidenced through photographic opportunities, case studies made on the young people and direct quotes from those young people themselves.

This combined with statistical evidence provides the information expected from those funders. However, from a development and a more rewarding point of view is the soft outcomes that can be demonstrated in between.

These are the outcomes demonstrated by young people who are gradually improving their lives by becoming more confident, through successful transitions. In essence, it is that spark of understanding and that split moment recognition that the young person is achieving what they had set out to achieve and, in some cases had not realised that they could achieve so much. This is what is important to the youth worker. Once this has been captured, it speaks untold levels of success.

In a nutshell, hard outcomes are those that can be measured after each session or at the end of the project – dependant on the outcomes that have been set, it may be the amount of attendees per session, the amount of hours per young person has had contact with the service, certain engagement criteria such as attending learning courses.

The soft outcomes are those small changes that materialise after building those relationships with the young people, after spending quality time whereby those changes are evident through their characteristics or their attitude or, it could be as bold as encouraging their change in outlook for the better.

Evidencing Soft Outcomes

Just as it is difficult to catch a butterfly with a net without damaging it, these outcomes can be just as elusive and challenging to capture once they materialise. Especially when those outcomes are expressed verbally by a young person there is always a temptation to either write it down or, encourage the young person to repeat what they had said whilst being recorded. Even though this is accepted personally, I feel it leaves a somewhat contrived feeling due in part to a past unique moment for that young person.

I have also worked with the young person to write a case study surrounding their development unravelling the soft outcomes as the discussion progresses, this can be done in written format or videoed. I have also achieved through encouraging young people to design presentations and deliver them to groups of people. I have also used questionnaires depicting the before, during and after scenario, this details the path that they have taken.

There are obviously those more subtle changes that you can witness with a young person but are a lot more difficult to capture, it could be the change in attitude, the change in their outlook. In the current world of targets and measures, how can these be captured? It is true that youth workers have to be creative but is there a barrier to creativity where something innate is developing?

By Martin Andrew

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