In this episode, we are discussing the impact of learning mobility projects on communities where they happen, by introducing a research paper on community impact indicators of learning mobility projects and the practical guide on the same topic developed by Salto Solidarity Corps Resource Centre.

Show Notes

The impact of learning mobility projects is quite well known, it is well researched, mainly when it comes to the impact on the individual level. We think about it when we develop project ideas - what impact will the project have on the participants. But the impact does not end with the individuals, it also extends to a community - people who are sometimes intentionally or unintentionally affected by the project actions. Recent developments in European youth policies and programmes show that more emphasis is put on understanding the impact not only on the individual level, but also on the local community or wider society.

What do we mean when we talk about community? What impact do learning mobility projects have on the community? How to measure it? Why is it important? These are some of the questions we are discussing in this episode with our guests:
Link to more materials: European Platform on Learning Mobility

The transcript of this episode is available HERE

What is UNDER 30'?

Welcome to UNDER 30, the podcast series by the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership that brings research results, explores trends in young people's lives and themes relevant for youth policy and practice.

The EU-CoE youth partnership is a co-operation programme between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth, created in 1998, connecting youth research, policy and practice.

Dariusz: Welcome to UNDER 30, the podcast series by the youth partnership that brings the research
results, explores trends in young people's lives and themes relevant for youth policy and practice.

The impact of learning mobility project is quite well known , it is well researched.

But only when it comes to the impact on individual level.

We think about it when we develop project ideas, what
impact will the project have on the participants?

But the impact does not end with individuals.

It also extends to a community, people who are sometimes
intentionally or unintentionally affected by the project actions.

The recent development and European youth policies and programs show
that more emphasis is put on understanding the impact, not only on the
individual level, but also on the local community or wider society.

What do we mean when we talk about community, what impact
do learning mobility projects have on the community?

How to measure it?

Why is it important?

These are some questions that I'm discussing with our guests today.

Alexandra Severino, one of the authors of the research paper on Community
Impact Indicators for Learning Mobility, done by the youth partnership.

Susie Nicodemi, one of the authors of the Practical
Guide on Community Impact of Learning Mobility Projects.

And Romina Matei from Salto European Solidarity Corps
Resource Center that developed the practical guide.

Enjoy listening!

Hello, and welcome to the next episode of our UNDER 30 podcast.

Today, we are talking about community impact and community impact indicators of learning mobility.

Yeah, it's a very interesting topic.

A lot of the things have been written, or we probably know a lot of things about
the impact of mobility projects or learning mobility on individual people or
people who are taking part in mobility projects or learning mobility projects.

We also know quite a bit about community and the impact on community.

But it has not been, I think, elaborated enough until now.

Now we have quite a bit of materials to understand what is community impact of learning mobility.

But maybe we can start a little bit with clarifying what we actually talking about.

What does it mean?

What kind of impact we are talking about?

What kind of community we are talking about?

Susie: Well, these are very good questions.

And, this is in fact where we started with our process, because actually
community, as a concept can mean lots of things to different people.

It can mean all sorts of different things.

In sociology and other kinds of academic research, there are all sorts of papers and all
sorts of stuff from years and years and years that define community in different ways.

But there is one element that we feel helps define it quite in an accessible way for most people.

So, in our practical guide that we put together, what we tried to do was explain community
in a very simple framed way that would allow people to then get on with the next bit.

So we tried to distinguish from a social group and an organization.

These would be something different and for us.

Our proposal is to explain a community where you have a sense of belonging.

You have a sense of belonging, and this could be
something that is very local, like with your neighbors.

It could be something a bit bigger, like a regional level
or even a group of countries, but it's not just geography.

It's also other elements.

Romina: The only thing that I would add to that is, because I'm
working on the program, which is called European Solidarity Corps.

And in everything that I do, I all the time I have the glasses of the program.

And also in our understanding, the community that we are speaking in the practical
guide is a community that is impacted or kind of take part or it's touched by some
actions that are supported by this program that supports volunteering in Europe.

So from my point of view, it's a community that, yes, it has the sense of
belonging, but it's also somehow connected, impacted with this program.

Alexandra: I would also add that, as per what Susie just said and the complexity and the dimension
of community and the different understandings, there was somehow this needs also linking it
with the process of the indicators to establish this sort of common ground on what is community.

How can we see it?

And in the specific cases of the indicators how to link it to learning mobility.

And it's a complex, but very interesting exercise.

Susie: Yeah, I just wanted to add an a last bit because, in the past community
has meant something quite obvious to people, but it's also with Corona and with
different ways as life develops, there's all sorts of communities that relate to
people in different ways, for example, like the different levels of your identity.

So there's also communities that relate to, for example, your religion or your political
affiliation or the things that you're passionate about that you want to change.

And it's also online communities, not just like physical people that you meet.

So the community, as a concept has so many dimensions, as Alex says, so many
dimensions and it's needed somehow to frame this and find some common ground.

Dariusz: Okay, we know now what community is, and then there's another aspect of what
we are talking today, is the impact, which I think is very problematic sometimes.

When we do the projects, we are always confronted with this outcomes, outputs,
impact, all this very difficult sometimes concepts, and that are very often confused.

It's written in the research, it's also in the practical guide, that this impacts
can be happening on very different levels and it can be very different as well.

If we can talk a little bit about it, what kind of impact
we are talking about when it comes to learning mobility?

Susie: Okay.

So just to give it a little introduction and to help a little bit to again, frame it for people so
they could find it, understand it, find it accessible, and then be able to do something with it.


So, to explain it briefly, when you want to make a change in your community, when there's a need,
there's like a problem or a need, and you want to do something about it, you want to make a change.

So to do this, you take action.

And then when you take action, that creates an output.

Something happens because you've taken action, right?

And, the output is the result of what you've done.

But this is not impact.

Impact is the effect that the output has, it's the effect of what you've done and the effect could
be on all sorts of people in all sorts of directions, this impact at all sorts of dimensions.

And it's the people that are involved and other people, and it's the place that it happens.

And other places, it's the system that you've changed and other systems.

So, it's important to, to realize, that it's the action you take the output that happens, and then.

Then, well then it's the change.

And so then there's these like different levels of impact.

There's the direct with the people directly involved.

There's the indirect.

So these are people who didn't really take part in it, but they were affected by it.

And not just the people, also the systems, the places,
the buildings, whatever, other things related to it.

So there's direct, indirect.

And then you can have the intended, the things you planned in your objectives, and the unintended.

So, things which happened even if you didn't mean for them to happen, but they
happened anyway, but that doesn't mean that they're still not valid, right.

They still happen.

And they're still there.

And then related to these four levels, there's the concept of positive and negative.

So, some things that you could aim for that you want to happen, a positive changes or
some things could happen, which are kind of negative and you didn't really want to happen.

And sometimes these negative ones can be great learning experiences,
especially if it's related to the individuals that are involved, that there
are a chance to reflect and adjust and think about the learning behind.

And the returns, for the organizers and the project managers to think, ooh, that went a bit wrong.

We didn't realize there was going to be this domino effect, if this happens, if this happens
and this happens, and this is going to be the impact on people, and we didn't intend that at
all, and it's a bit negative, then it's a chance to reflect and consider, how to do things
differently or, how things could be adjusted or maybe next time, how to approach it in another way.

So this is like impact in a nutshell.

Alexandra: Perhaps I can focus more on the causal aspect of the question.

So while we have all these different types of impact, specifically, if we focus
on learning mobility, it's important to understand what is directly caused by
learning mobility, because there might be impacts if we consider the overall
context that are not necessarily related to the learning mobility project.

So indicators in a sense are an effort to have these orientations and try
to make this causal link more clear, It's in any case a complex endeavor,
but it's important as you were just saying to understand these differences.

So we are more aware.

Romina: Can I add something

Dariusz: Sure, you can.

Romina: Okay, perfect.

Because, having the glasses of the program, and I understand a bit how
difficult it is when you write as well in application to think of the impact.

What I want to underline is that we have to have in mind, both a young person that writes a project
or an organization that the impact it's a process and measuring impact it's a process that you
need to plan and you need to think of it, and describe it also when you write the application, and
this is one thing, and the other thing is that, because we are speaking about people that are doing
volunteering activities in the case of the program, you never know how long, when you will see the
impact or how long it would take until you will really realize what happened because of a mobility.

So I know it's hard to describe this in an application when you
write a project, but I think it's an important element to mention it.

Susie: Yeah.

And I would add also this point that, a little bit in the Solidarity Corps, and also maybe in a
few other programs that sometimes impact is like the last box you fill in on the application form.

It's like the last box you fill in on the report form after you've added up all your receipts
and you've done, but actually for me, impact should be the second huge thing in the project.

First, you have the need, like, what is the need for this project?

And then what do we want to change?

And for me, that should be almost the starting point of any project of working
out what you want to change, what impact you want and then how to get there.

Like if you've got something to aim for, you've got your frame, you've got your
approach, and then you could break it into steps and work out how to get there.

And I guess that links to indicators then in that way,

Alexandra: I would also add that it was a very strong or core concern for the
group of researchers while going through all the elements of the research.

And it's actually part of our conclusion that indicators should not be used for funding projects.

They should be a tool and to make a more consistent analysis
of the project that is at stake, having community at the center.

And, so elaborating on what Susie was saying, this was one of our key
concerns while going through the different methodology and analyzing
the structure of what the indicators will hopefully be in the future.

So this is what I wanted to add.

Dariusz: Okay, thank you.

We'll will talk about the practical aspects a little
bit later, about the tools and indicators and so on.

But I would like to come back a little bit to the roots of the discussion when it comes to
the community impact of learning mobility, how this idea came about, how did it all start?

Susie: About six, seven years ago, something like this, there was an
emphasis from the European programs, well, first of all, the European
programs were well-recognized and there was momentum starting.

There was recognition in different parts of the European Commission and there was a, how do you
say this, a more of a priority given and more money, that more money was made available for the
European programs in a very positive way to encourage more people to have more opportunities.

In response to this, European Platform for Learning Mobility, which brings together different
institutions and programs and, European ones, but also other ones related to work camps
and bilateral things, anyone that does stuff internationally with young people, right?

This is what the platform does.

So in response, they really wanted to help, support, especially
newcomers or people who perhaps wouldn't have so much experience or
wouldn't understand the breadth and depth of what could be possible.

So there was a focus on quality.

And certain quality tools were developed.

We don't need to go into them here and now they're available
on the websites and they've happened over in the past.

So the quality was a real focus.

And then, once we developed these, the question was raised quality, why do we
need these tools and what are we going to do with them and how's it going to work?

And then the conversation started with the development,
the initial development of the Solidarity corps in 2017.

It developed into a let's have a look at individual learning as it had been in a European
voluntary service, but now balance it, counterbalance it also with the service aspect,
this connection to others, the solidarity approach of reaching out and supporting,
helping, whatever your concept of solidarity is, let's not go too much into that.

And, so there's these two angles, right?

There's personal learning and then there's the benefit also for the community and society.

So this is where it came and there was a big, event hosted by Jint the Belgian Flemish National
Agency in April 2019, called The Power of Learning Mobility and it balanced these two angles.

And this was one of the big events that kicked off a lot
of the stuff that happened related to community impact.

Alexandra: Also from that event from the researchers group that were present at
the time, there were a lot of discussions on learning mobility in general, and this
assumption that all projects in a way or another, learning mobility projects, in
a way or another, as I was just saying, they always generate positive results.

And the discussion was don't they lead to quality in certain cases, shouldn't we
looking to this, try to understand what is the real impact for communities too.

And there was a lot of discussion too around social impact and from social impact, then we
realized that there were not many instruments that would consider the community level.

There were some for the individual level, some for the organizational level,
but not many or in some cases they were even inexistent to the community level.

Romina: And I enter in the scene in 2019, in somewhere in autumn, because, of course
with the new program as Susie was mentioning, so that kind of puts on the main
scene what happens in the community when you are doing a volunteer service stage?

It's not only if we look back a lit a little bit on the previous volunteering
program, which is called Europeans Voluntary Service which was until 2018.

There, the focus was on developing competencies and on learning a lot.

And now Solidarity Corps trying to bring on the same level, you know, it's the updated
version of what was previously with the feature that community impact is important.

And we, as Solidarity Corps Resource Center, we were part of the EPLM platform, which is this
platform that gathers smart minds and open hearts on mobility program projects, mobility actions
in Europe, Yeah, we were saying, oh, there is a lot of work already done on community impact.

What community impact could look like in the program.

And this is also how the story of the practical guide came up.

And then based on the practical guide seminar with that, we just ended in Vienna.

Susie: It would be important to also say that there was a whole
process of desk mapping and trying to understand what already exists.

And there, it was great to have that gathered in one place, but then it was very
obvious there were big gaps inside it, like there was some stuff from some
places, but there were definite gaps that needed to be thought about and dealt with.

And the whole thing about sending communities and hosting communities and the amount of
data that was for this like different levels and different ways of looking at things.


there's a need there.

Dariusz: Okay.

So we know a little bit about the history of how it all started and actually developed very well.

You mentioned the European Platform on Learning Mobility and yes, the
platform and they youth partnership has done quite a bit of research,
which is available also on the European Platform on Learning Mobility.

And the research was on community impact indicators.

What does this research tell us?

What kind of impact we are talking about?

What aspects of community are affected?

And this is probably the question to Alexandra.

Alexandra: Yes.

Very happy to share something and very briefly about our research.

So the indicators, there was background research work on
what would be important to analyze at the community level.

These included some thematic areas, active citizenship, participation.

We also considered the more skills and competencies oriented side.

Intercultural dialogue.

So these were basically in a nutshell, the areas that were considered more
relevant to analyze at the community level and to propose indicators within,
to measure and trying to understand the link between the learning mobilities
that were taking place in X or Y community and this respective fields.

From our research, the key conclusions were that, there were some indicators, some
instruments that could be already considered at a macro level, mostly for skills
and competences and some instruments that could be potentially adapted to better
respond to the needs of assessing community impact within learning mobility.

We analyzed the different concepts, the different contextual approaches to this concept.

And our conclusion was that we could propose a preliminary set of indicators that would need to
be tested to ultimately develop a final list that could be helpful to measure community impact.

It is indeed a complex process.

We are currently in the testing phase, and I hope this is an opportunity and
that it can be possible to post the link to the survey with a preliminary
list of indicators studies being tested at the moment in the show notes.

And we are indeed now through gathering that data, what the different
people that are involved with communities, with organizations, with
youth work, with learning mobility, think about these preliminary set.

Are they useful?

Can they be really effective in measuring community impact?

Do they resonate to people?

What can be changed?

And there's room in the consultation to try to gather that data too.

So we are excited about what is potentially to come and to look into more detail on the feedback
that is given to our research, so we can indeed hopefully propose that something that will
be, or that will add some value in this path towards making community impact more relevant,
and also providing a tool that is in a way harmonized that can be used by many different
people, different communities to assess the impact, in this case of learning mobility projects.

Dariusz: Thank you, Alexandra.

The research is very important.

I think in very many instances, the research papers are not very accessible
for, let's say people who are on the the grassroots level in the youth
organizations, or maybe they even done look sometimes at this research.

that's how probably the idea of the practical guide came about, which
was produced by Salto European Solidarity Corps Resource Center.

If we can say a little bit about this practical guide.

We know how it came about, but what we can find there, who is it for, how it can be used.

Very simple questions, but I think very practical as the guide should be probably.

Susie: Yeah.

I would start with a few points related to it.

So, I have to admit I've been involved in international youth work for
over 20 years and I'm good at all sorts of things but I'm not an academic.

And if you give me a research paper that is more than three pages long, I will
just skip through it and look at the things that are in boxes or the quotes.

And, I know that's terrible and I know I probably should
like develop my competencies and all that kind of thing.

And there's probably other people who are also busy or who
don't have that desire to dive deep into the academia of stuff.

And when we were going through this process, that Alex was explaining all the research
and understanding the importance of it and the connection, which is what the EPLM does.

It connects research with policy, with practice around the needs of young people.

And, the group of us that were involved or like, well, okay, if we're really pushing this around
the needs of young people, the young people themselves, and the organizations that people that
work with them, they need to understand all these long words and all their stuff that's going on.

It's really important.

It's really, it's the key to the Solidarity Corps, this connection with community and impact.

And it needs to be translated and it needs to be hands-on.

It needs to be quick, cause youth leaders are busy
people that are overwhelmed with all sorts of stuff.

And so we work together to try to distill as much as
possible, the main messages from the different research stuff.

Well, what happened is we created the report and then we wanted to add a few visuals to the report.

And then as we went through the whole process, we were like, well, maybe
what we could do is kind of put a lot more emphasis on the visuals.

So what we have, what's produced right now is, there is, a written document that
helps explain what is community, what is impact, how to know if it's there, how
to measure it, and some great, good ideas of how to do more community impact in
your project and what it can look like in the Solidarity Corps, a whole document.

That's got all that in it and it's a download and you can read it and it's there.

And there are also some visuals that represent the key core messages that are inside that.

And we worked with a visual designer who helped us translate a bit
the main elements and they have short descriptions next to them.

And the seminar that we've just had now in October, in Vienna hosted by the Austrian
National Agency together with the Resource Center for the Solidarity Corps, it was
the very first time that this tool was tested on a real audience of real people.

and there was lots of positive feedback and there was this could be improved a bit and
that could be improved or you could adapt it like this and, or maybe you could use it
for young people and you could like chat, or what you could do is you could like put
some persuasive messages so that managers understand why community impact is important.

So we had quite a few suggestions of where it could be taken and how it could be improved.

And for us, what's really important as all this like theory and long
words and academia actually gets out in the real world and makes a
difference to people that do hands-on projects with young people.

Alexandra: As I was involved in the different process and doing also with
the colleagues working on the practical guide, this translation effort, that
is a very interesting experience and also an effort to, I think it should be
done, also from the point of view of the research, making it more accessible.

And of course, while in the desk research we go through significant details, through
the theory of change, different concepts with different levels of complexity for the
practitioner, the conclusion, or what is the result of the analysis and these processes
is what matters because of what Susie just said at the time constraints, the need to
focus, the more practices or practice oriented approach, it's extremely important.

So I think this is an excellent example.

Of course I'm biased, but I'm saying these interconnection between
the three corners of the triangle, so research, practice and policy.

Romina: I would just add that for us the guide is the first step, and this
is dedicated mainly for youth workers and project manager and youth leaders.

So if you are planning to write any project on Solidarity Corps in the near future, please,
take 15 minutes because this is more or less the time that you need to go through the visuals.

We are also working now to develop a bit of video.

We had the seminar in Vienna and we had a really
nice presentation and that will accompany the guide.

So we will also have for the ones that are more audio visual, we will have this and, the guide is
also a stepping stone in creating an understanding of what means community impact also in the level
and in the network of National Agencies and how they evaluate community impact in their projects.

So, yeah, it's a beautiful beginning, let's say that.

Dariusz: Thank you.

A beautiful beginning.

We know that, Alexandra already mentioned that, the
testing phase is now on and people can take part.

And of course we encourage our listeners to take part in
it and we will post the link in the notes to this episode.

So, what's next, when the thing will be finished?

What about dissemination?

Romina: It's only the beginning, as I said.

Based on what happened in Vienna , we will have a bit of time
to digest, needs that we received, we as a resource center.

And because it's also a nice timing in the year.

For the ones that you don't know in October, November is the time where we plan all the activities
for the next years, we as the Resource Centers, but also National Agencies across Europe.

So we want to digest a bit the needs that we heard and plan what we will do for
committing back to the next year, for sure something will be developed of course.

My personal preference is also to see how it's possible to have events around the publication.

So, if you are listening to this podcast, go on Salto website in the future, in
this training calendar where we announced future events and also on social media.

We are, I hope, active on that as well.

And what is really important for us is to continue also the research and a bit of understanding on
the links between the community impact and Solidarity Corps, and even to have to work more on this,
having a common understanding in the network of National Agencies and the common understanding of
what means community impact also from the perspective of the ones that are evaluating the projects.

So the ones that are writing the project and the ones that are evaluating
the project have a similar understanding of what community impact is.

Susie: The Resource Center does great stuff to support the Solidarity Corps in a real strategic way.

You'll be surprised to know they don't have 80 staff working that they only have three.

So when you see the aim and the suggestions and the strategy
of what they hope to do, they make a really big difference.

But what's important I think is that this topic needs
to be taken up and taken onwards by many more actors.

I think there needs to be a kind of ownership and emphasis, and
acceptance that this is something that really makes a difference.

And it's very connected.

it's not just a kind of heard you say a tick box on a form.

It's something that really makes a difference to people.

And there's all sorts of angles to it, for example, community impact connecting to sustainability.

For example, the more people in the community that are connected, affected,
involved in a granted project means a better social cohesion and better trust and
relationships and longer term projects and an easier assessment of needs next time.

And that it doesn't only rely on a European grant for a six day project,
but it could then continue into something much longer, broader and wider.

And if there is this emphasis on community impact and approach, then it really gets also the
whole inclusion, diversity, you get more different people involved in all sorts of levels.

So, well done to the resource center for everything they're doing to push it.

Let's now encourage other actors to develop training, to develop support, to do
more research, to make it more aware, to connect to the local development, the
people, the heroes that do amazing local development work at grassroots level.

Alexandra: I just wanted to say that thinking about what my colleagues just said.

And also one of the points Susie was mentioning at the beginning, from the research
standpoint, I think it's extremely important to map what is the understanding of
community, because there was a very traditional understanding and now we need to
figure out what changed, what we add to that understanding and what does really
community means in different contexts for different actors at different levels.

And I think this is something that should be a focus in the future from the research
angle, but also involving of course, all the other actors, the policy and practice.

So this is my, my, my last few words about this.

Susie: Because if you think, what does community mean to you, right?

And then you start thinking about it.

You think, which communities do I belong to and which communities don't I belong to.

And why?

Does community have a positive meaning to me, does it have a
positive meaning to my language, to what's used in social media.

And once you start discussing that with others, from other places you realize
that's actually quite a difference in how people understand the concept what's
behind it and how it's developed and how it's used in the youth field as well.

It's quite specific or different.

So there's definitely a need to understand it.

Dariusz: I think it's a very nice ending of our episode.

We started with exploring what is community.

And we actually ended up with asking a question, what community is for you, what it means for you.

So this is the question maybe our listeners can now reflect on where feel
they belong, which community they belong, which community they feel they
don't belong and what it actually means for them belonging to this community.

Thank you very much Susie, Alexandra and Romina.

There is a lot of tools available.

And as you heard, this is the work in progress and there's still a lot of processes going on.

It's not finished, but you can find the links to all what is
already finished and what's available in the notes in this episode.

Thank you very much.

And bye-bye.