#digiIMPACT research - why does it matter?  

The findings of this project provide new insights into how social impact is perceived by digital youth workers and young people and its associated challenges.

 

It is evidenced here that both groups struggle to strike a balance between following external social impact definitions and guidelines and its meaningful and critical analysis. Such tensions between targets and authenticity in the digital youth sector in Scotland might lead to the lack of critical understanding of the real social impact, and thus young people's real digital needs, aspirations, and skills shortages.

 

These findings are important in the context of the national digital strategy for Scotland, published in 2017, which emphasises the need for educators to “prepare young people for jobs that do not exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems of which we are not yet aware” (Scottish Government, 2017, p. 24).

 

The lack of critical and authentic analysis of social impact of digital youth projects in Scotland will lead to the collection of inaccurate evaluation. Subsequently, inaccurate evaluation data might not provide information on the possibly “problems we are not yet aware” of (Scottish Government, 2017, p. 24). As argued by Muller, “trying to force people to conform their work to pre-established numerical goals tends to stifle innovation and creativity” (2018, p.32). To address young Scottish people’s digital needs of the 21st century, it is essential to gain a critical and holistic understanding of social impact (both positive and negative) of digital youth projects.

 

This project provides evidence that problematic power dynamics play an important role in how youth workers and young people experience evaluation.

 

It is striking that both groups feel the need to conform to the technocratic rationality of current social impact evaluation structures.

 

Evaluation requires youth workers and young people to perform their industry and socially imposed roles. In order to “pass” the evaluation and subsequently sustain/obtain future funding, youth workers tend to become “digital youth culture enthusiasts” and young people take on roles of the “grateful and improved versions of themselves”. Youth workers and young people believe that these structures do not work as they do not allow them to contribute authentic and critical evaluations of their digital youth projects.

 

Meaningful digital youth participation can and does take place in Scotland. However, this research indicates that their meaningful participation ends when the evaluation process begins.

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Dr Alicja Pawluczuk

Digital Media Practitioner and Researcher with extensive experience of participatory media project design and facilitation both in Europe and South East Asia. Founder of digital storytelling educational collective www.digitalbeez.org. Associate Lecturer & PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University. Interested in Digital Youth Work/Literacy and Experiential Teaching Practice, ICT4D, Digital Inclusion, and Digital Activism. An active member of the Digital Youth Workers Network in Scotland. 

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