Material 07.04.2017

The use and possibility of using digital solutions in youth work: an Estonian perspective

A study was carried out in Estonia in 2016 on the use and possibility of using digital solutions in youth work. Although Estonia ranks high worldwide in using different ICT and e-solutions in different policy areas, the results of this study show that this is not the case in youth work – the diversity of possibilities of applying digital solutions in youth work remain underused. Maarja Käger from the institute of Baltic studies provided Verke a summary of the study’s findings.

The results of this study indicate that the participants in Estonian youth work – both youth workers as well as young people themselves – expect from the digital solutions most of all the simplification of the organisation of youth work. Besides contributing to planning the youth work, changing information between youth organizations, reporting about youth work, etc, the results also show that there is a wider demand for contemporary digital equipment and tools, and the need for the substantial increase in digital competencies among different actors, mainly among youth workers.

At the same time, the results also show that the nature of the youth work, the role of the youth worker and the content of the activities is largely linked to the location and context, and is also changing in time. This means, that different groups have different expectations on the use of digital solutions in youth work: the difference comes from the diverging perspective of time (what is needed now vs what is needed in a few years’ time), from the geographical location of the young or the youth worker (urban vs rural areas), and it also depends on the age-dependent factors (young vs older youth workers). However, what is mutually common is the expectation of free (non-paid) digital solutions.

While conducting the study, one of the topics that came up regularly was the fear that young people spend already too much time online and in a digital world. And that applying more solutions in youth work might force them further there. Although this might be true for some cases, the results of this study also show that the fears of losing young people into the world of digital is not always founded: young people usually do not fall into the isolation in the digital world neither are they acting there alone.

Their rationale behind the use of digital solutions, including using social media, is the wish to be connected – to be faster, more and continuously in contact with each another. Therefore, digital solutions can be seen as new possibilities in youth work, which the youth workers can use in their work with young people.

Another important challenge resulting from the study is the confirmation of the digital divide in Estonia: the access to digital solutions and information as well as competences to use these solutions. The reality of digital divide among youth workers (and to a smaller degree among young people themselves) is confirmed also by few other similar projects carried out around the same time in Estonia. All these indicate that a large majority of the youth workers are neither ready nor capable for actively discussing or thinking in the frames or context of (new) digital solutions. This skill, however, is extremely important when developing new digital solutions or implementing the existing ones in youth work.

Based on these main challenges and results, 7 conceptual ideas for improving the existing digital solutions or developing new ones were developed. These involved solutions both for the improvement of workload and efficacy of youth workers in their everyday work (e.g. better management of administrative tasks), but also ideas for digital solutions for increasing the participation of young people in youth work activities. Every idea was described in short in 7-8 pages: including the target groups of the digital solution, indicative budget, description of the current situation and needs assessment, description as well as functionality of the possible digital solution etc.

Based on the main key conclusions of the study, also general recommendations for the improvement of current situation were made.

Recommendations at the national level:

    1. there is a clear need for creating a supporting structure – minimally by starting with a one-person position at the responsible ministry or at the implementing agencies – that supports developing the field of youth work systematically, including educating youth workers about the ICT and its new developments and trends, supporting exchange of practices (within Estonia as well as between countries), supporting youth workers during the application of digital solutions etc.
    2. there is a need for specifying digital competence requirements in professional standards of youth workers in Estonia;
    3. youth workers’ curriculums and training plans should be reviewed and specified in regards with the digital competences;
    4. better cooperation between youth workers and teachers should be encouraged to use the full potential of developing youngsters, e.g. through the sharing of information and methods;
    5. before creating new digital solutions in youth work, or adding new functionality to existing ones, one should always consult with the existing solutions, both in Estonia as well as abroad.

Recommendations for youth workers and people dealing with youth:

    1. there is a need for being regularly updated on the new and existing digital solutions and need for being digitally competent. This can be improved by the relevant facilitators in the field (see point 1.1. in previous section);
    2. digital solutions should be seen as a tool and method in youth work. Most crucial is however involving young people themselves for the introducing of digital solutions to youth workers or in youth work. This helps to empower the young people in a new way.

Recommendations for developers of digital solutions in youth work:

    1. There are two crucial preconditions while developing the digital solutions in youth work: ease of use and (attractive) design.
    2. The needs and expectations of young people are in a constant change. Thereby continuous improvements of solutions are needed, but sometimes this comes with the reality of abandoning the former popular solution and moving into new one.
    3. needs of youth and youth workers have to be mapped regularly – what kind of digital solutions young people are using, what are the latest trends in social media platforms etc.

Full report in Estonian is available at the homepage of Institute of Baltic Studies: