Impact story: creative ways to engage young people with feedback

Barking and Dagenham Youth Dance (BDYD) is a small youth-led arts group based in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. BDYD provides community arts events and street dance classes for over 140 children and young people. A leadership programme for those wanting to further their skills and contribute to BDYD has developed organically from these courses, consisting of Bar-ham Leaders – a youth action programme – and a youth dance instructors’ programme.

BDYD is run by its founder, a part-time member of staff and a number of sessional staff.  There are also 11 volunteers who lead and assist with courses.

Adapting services whilst remote working

During the Covid-19 crisis BDYD staff and volunteers have worked together to enable young people and their families to stay connected through dance and art projects. This was a challenge, with the pandemic and lockdown showing up more starkly the areas of disparity in the community, including around housing and overcrowding, and exposing a big digital divide. BDYD has had to solve or work around these issues as the group pivoted towards providing its dance classes online to young people in their kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms.

Adapting data collection to remote working

BDYD has needed to collect information by engaging young people in giving information and by making it interesting for them to get it back when collated – a well-known challenge.  Before the coronavirus pandemic, BDYD used simple, paper-based questionnaires and created a scrapbook, something ‘tangible’ to present a visual timeline of the projects; the scrapbooks were more appealing to young people than a traditional report.

During the Covid-19 crisis, data collection became more integrated with service delivery. For example, the founder encouraged everyone – including parents – to just write, don’t worry about spelling/grammar; write what’s in here [your head]. The resulting journals has become a valuable record of life in lockdown for both the organisation and the young people, and a way to enable people to manage their mental health.

Parents’ permission was sought to create WhatsApp groups so that young people could speak (not moan!) about their experience at BDYD. This acted as a way to ensure that the young people were reminded to join classes; it also proved a way to both deliver the service and gather feedback with date stamps.

One parent wrote: ‘Thank God for the BDYD classes.’

Ongoing challenges for BDYD

BDYD’s founder wants to share evidence they have of the ‘world of difference’ she knows BDYD has made for the young people and families they have worked with during lockdown. They see a three-fold challenge to sharing the positive outcomes of their work.

  • Firstly, the borough approach to the voluntary sector is disjointed, while at the same time young people are maligned as anti-social. This means, the founder feels, ‘We still have to shout and scream about our work’. So the ongoing collection of data will help keep their work on the radar.
  • Secondly, the organisation is not considered for funding by some funders as it does not meet the minimum annual income threshold, although ‘a lot of funders are really seeing what our impact is. … We are community rich.’ Securing further funding remains difficult. This is something for funders to consider: if impact practice enables organisations to evidence positive outcomes, can thresholds for funding be reviewed?
  • Finally, they do not get invited to speak in events together with larger charities, although BDYD has an online presence. The occasional phone call from a larger charity to say hello, under the umbrella of ‘capacity building’ is not enough. This highlights the need to bring charities of all types to the table so they can share the stories of their impact regardless of their size,

If you are thinking of doing something similar we suggest you:

  1. Think about creating multiple ways for people to share what’s on their mind. E.g. via whatsapp, an online form, on call with you etc.
  2. Explore how you can make the most of casual conversation. Read Evaluation Support Scotland’s quick guide to capturing casual moments. 

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