There is a lot of evidence to show that taking part in structured activities develops crucial capabilities in young people – capabilities such as the ability to stick at things, to empathise with others, to co-operate effectively and to regulate one’s emotions. It would not be right to suggest that in light of this evidence provision of traditional academic education should be reduced. But there is certainly a case for widening opportunities to gain repeated experience of activities that build such capabilities.
But how do we know which programmes actually enhance capabilities? Working in partnership with v (the National Youth Volunteering Service) Demos will be piloting a set of evaluative tools that measure changes in capabilities. These tools will consist of a mix of self-reporting questionnaires and more objective tests of cognitive, social and emotional skills. We will also pilot the testing of implicit social dispositions such as a sense of trust towards others. The idea is to develop a way of capturing a holistic picture of young people’s capabilities.
One reason for taking such a holistic approach is that some changes in young people’s capabilities occur through the development of habits and responses that fall below the level of consciousness (taking place in what might be termed the ‘automatic brain’). Another reason is that even where capabilities are given to consciousness, data recording their development are rarely collected. It is for these two reasons that structured activities bear a hidden value. Our research with v aims to go some way to measuring this value.
We are currently carrying out a thorough literature review and developing a battery of questionnaires and tests that we will use for our fieldwork. We will carry out our fieldwork with a cohort of participants in v’s talent year programme between September 2010 and February 2011. We will then disseminate our findings in a Demos report to be published in April 2010. In this report we will also provide a critical overview of debates and research around young people’s capabilities, as well as some policy recommendations on increasing capability-building opportunities for young people.
For more information about the project, contact Matt Grist.
This report assesses the impact of long-term volunteering schemes on work-readiness and capabilities.