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  • Writer's picturealicjapawluczuk

[post] digital youth work: what does the future hold?

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

One thing is certain: digital youth work is here to stay.

Recent months have shown us all how incredibly important it is to (1) have access to reliable wi-fi; (2) have a digital device with a functioning camera; (3) have the confidence and skills to use these things.

I've talked about it a lot (and yes, I'm going to say it again) - many digital technologies have proven to be useful in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. They kept many of us informed, connected and entertained.

However, they also kept us on the edge - anxious, confused, and unable to switch off.

For many young people, digital youth work has become a space, a community and support resource, where all of these conflicting emotions could be explored.

During the lockdown, I was able to support several organisations in their digital youth work delivery (mainly through digital and data literacy training). I was truly blown away by the amount of enthusiasm and commitment from the youth workers all across Europe.

It could be argued that during the pandemic, many youth workers had no choice but to become digital youth workers*.

To better understand some of the pros and cons of this accelerated digital youth work development in Scotland, I attended a Digital Youth Work Experts' Hurdle session organised by Hilary Philips from Youth Link Scotland. The 30 minutes workshop I facilitated focused on the future of digital youth work.

This express mind-mapping exercise has helped to shed some light on:

(1) how we imagine digital youth work in 2090;

(2) our fears related to the future of digital youth work;

(3) our hopes related to the future of digital youth work.

So yeah, digital youth work is here to stay, but what will it look like in the future?

Below, I provide a quick (possibly also imperfect) summary of the main points raised by the "The Future of Digital Youth Work" workshop participants.

Welcome to the future: imagining the Digital Youth Work of 2090

The first part of the workshop included imagining the state of digital youth work in whooping 70 years.

Key takeaways:

📍There will no longer be a division between digital youth work and youth work. The technologies will become even more ubiquitous. Transitions between digital and non-digital forms of engagement will become more fluid.

📍In fact, there will be new terminology used to describe it (what could it be?);

📍Artificial Intelligence will play an important role in digital youth work delivery;

📍The idea of childhood and children's development will be different from what it has been for decades;

📍In 2090, digital youth work values will remain the same;

📍In 2090, digital youth work will become more self-led and self-organised by young people.

Digital youth work of the future: what are some of our fears?

The next part of the workshop included sharing some of our fears related to the future of digital youth work.

Key takeaways:

📍Budget cuts might lead to digitalisation of youth work services and lead to less face to face contact with young people;

📍In the light of an increasing influence of tech-giants (e.g. Facebook, Google) privacy will become the thing of the past;

📍Many young people will still be digital excluded and digitally illiterate**;

📍Youth workers won't be able to keep up with constant digital developments (and trends) and will be unable to meet young people's expectations.

Digital youth work of the future: what are some of our hopes?

The final part of the session was dedicated to our hopes related to the future of digital youth work.

Key takeaways:

📍Digital technologies will help youth workers to reach young people in remote areas and exchange information and best practice globally;

📍There will be more support available for digital youth workers (e.g. training, membership organisations);

[pssttt... make sure to check out and]

📍Digital youth workers will have more diverse skills set and will come into digital youth work from diverse professions;

📍More data will be available on what works and what does not work in digital youth work, and on how to engage with different groups of young people.

Conclusion: what's next for digital youth work?

I'm sure there is loads you'd like to add to the list above. And guess what? You can!

As a researcher at the United Nations University, I'm carrying out a study on the impact of COVID19 on digital youth work. The key goal of this study is to learn about your experiences of digital youth work during the lockdown and use your precious insights to shape and hopefully also improve the digital youth work support.

Your perspective is incredibly important, please consider checking out (and completing) this 5-min survey.

thank you!


* I wrote about youth workers not having a choice but simply becoming digital youth workers in my 2019 publication "Digital youth work: youth workers' balancing act between digital innovation and digital literacy insecurity" (it's free to read online)

** I've written about digital youth inclusion in Scotland recently in the Internet Policy Review-Journal, "Digital youth inclusion and the big data divide: examining the Scottish perspective" (also free to access online,yay!)

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