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Scientism, governance and evaluation: Challenging the ‘good science’ of the UK evaluation agenda for youth work

Duffy, DN (2017) Scientism, governance and evaluation: Challenging the ‘good science’ of the UK evaluation agenda for youth work. Youth and Policy, 116. pp. 45-61. ISSN 0262-9798

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Abstract

The UK government’s evaluation agenda for youth work has been the subject of significant debate. Its opponents have highlighted the ends-oriented model of evaluation – Theory of Change – proposed by the UK government as incompatible with youth work’s open-ended, fluid approach (Ord, 2014; In Defence of Youth Work, 2012). However, this model of evaluation has gained a great deal of traction among local authorities and youth work organisations (including the National Youth Agency). This is potentially due to the government’s claim that their aim is simply ‘good science’ using the language of ‘scientific rigour’ and ‘better assessment’. This article argues that the approaches being marketed – and adopted – are an example of regulatory ‘scientism’ herein allusions to ‘good’ science are used to govern youth work. However, evaluation of youth work should not be rejected entirely as it can also provide opportunities for innovation and change.

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