The Comanity Animateur at work: Community Action-Research Experiments

One of COMANITY’s main objectives is to develop a new youth work and volunteering role –the Community Animateur (CA). A new role that enables youth workers to “step into the shoes” of marginalised young people, understand their needs, and provide a credible and trusted source of support to help them realise their potential and play an active role in improving their communities. This new role implies a competence framework for the Community Animateur, a training for enabling youth workers on this new role and a methodology that support the CA for triggering the active role of young people on the improvement of their own environment.

An innovative and inclusive methodology

The methodology behind the active role of young people is the Participatory Action-Research (PAR). The objective is to support young people as “knowledge co-producers”, actively working in collaboration with the Community Animateur in the development of their own interventions in contrast to the traditional models of “transmissive” behaviour change. 

The PAR is, originally, a qualitative research methodology that is applied in a wide range of fields of action. The Community Animateur is not a researcher by definition, but this methodology will support him/her for the collective self-experimentation and reflection that will lead to the transformation of young people’s lives carried out by themselves. 

On this basis, the COMANITY project has developed a set of guidelines for the Design and Implementation Plan for Community Action Research Experiments that will help the Community Animateur to surf throughout the process of the PAR implementation. This methodology has been tested in the partner countries (Greece, Italy, Spain and UK) in different targets groups of young people. The Community Action Research Experiments have been carried out by the participants in the Community Animateur Foundation Course, youth workers and volunteers that have put into practice their skills and knowledge on the field.

Learn more about the programme here.

The Community Action Research Experiments

In Greece, four Action Research experiments took place involving 14 young volunteers and more than 50 young people. The experiments were led by the 14 young volunteers. Two young volunteers worked with a group of adolescent drug users in a therapeutic community to develop a team work ‘treasure hunt’ game. Another young volunteer worked with adolescents in the community (city of Patras) to co-develop an action research experiment for prevention/intervention with the young population and produced a relevant video. Another volunteer chose street tango to develop an intervention for, and with refugees in the island of Leros, aiming to enhance social inclusion and fight stigma. Finally, ten young volunteers tried to understand adolescents’ and young people’s attitudes towards cannabis use. They also produced a video following the present their results. All participants shared their experiences in a focus group and described it “as an unique voyage and empowering experience”. 

The Action Research experiment in Italy focused on a project on youth involvement carried out by the youth field operators from the “Centro Servizi Giovani di Perugia”. The aim was to create a working group that could be motivated to work together and reflect on their role in the transformation of the physical and conceptual space of the center. As a consequence, a group of 15 girls and boys followed a PAR process to critically analyse the role of the center and offer solutions to transform the space according to their needs. The result was not only the transformation of the space but also youth empowerment and acquisition of a set of new competences – life management, active participation and decision-making – to answer their own issues, contributing to the improvement of the conditions of their environment.

In the case of Spain, 5 Youth workers, 4 volunteers and more than 100 young people participated in the implementation of 3 action research experiments. They were led by three different organisations and targeted to different youth groups. The themes of the experiments were proposed by the young people and they addressed the difficulties they found in their lives: Young people with mental illness addressed the social stigma associated with being ill, another group explored the lack of sense of privacy and risks on social media for young people with disabilities, and the third experiment was carried out for a group of young migrants’ difficulties to connect with locals.

In the UK, six Youth and Community Workers implemented three action research experiments that involved approximately 60 young people and were led by three different organisations. The themes of the experiments were a collaboration between the workers, young people, reflecting the life-world analysis that took place at the beginning of the programme while addressing the challenges and difficulties that they face in their daily lives.  

  • The first experiment was around raising aspirations and opportunities for young people in the criminal justice system. This was led by two Youth workers and the experiment worked in collaboration with the Youth Offending Team and the young people who were carrying out their community service hours. This was delivered by getting the young people to come on to a cooking programme once a week for 6 weeks. It allowed these young people to relax as part of a fun exercise while they discussed their future options and how to implement goals that they set for themselves, for example updating CVs –  what jobs did they apply for and what additional support that they need, checking this with them on a weekly basis and reviewing goals.
  • The second experiment was on improving access to emotional well-being and mental health support for young people on the margins. This was led by two Community Workers with the help of five volunteers who delivered street outreach sessions late afternoons and evenings and talked to young people about their needs and what would enable them to access appropriate support. Taking into consideration young people’s views they will now design an information leaflet with key mental health services details that can be handed out to young people on the streets while continuing to build positive relationships, encouraging access to services and opportunities that supports their overall well-being.
  • The third experiment looked at ways of reducing antisocial behaviour in an identified ‘hotspot’ as part of developing and implementing a street work intervention in a new area which has been receiving complaints from residents. This was led by two Youth Workers and resulted in many outcomes. Most notably understanding young people’s interests and getting young people away from at risk borderline criminal activities such as bike theft and getting them to participate in a bike mechanic programme, to accessing music workshops and creating music in a studio, while deescalating community tension and enabling better community understanding and cohesion.

These experiments are a start of re-energising, connecting and looking at different ways of working with young people and communities on the margin, with some of the experiments still ongoing. 

COMANITY Guidelines for the design and implementation of the PAR

The guidelines for the Design and Implementation Plan for Community Action Research Experiments set out the design, procedure and processes for carrying out community-based action research experiments involving Community Animateur youth workers and volunteers. The document is structured as a user’s manual for the implementation of a PAR within the framework of the Comanity project. It provides for each one of the PAR stages (Observe, Reflect, Plan, Act) a step-by-step description of the process, tools and advice to get through them. Special emphasis is given to the objectives of each phase of the process, the steps to develop them and tips for collecting information and registration. Annexes with examples of templates and resources on methods and tools for carrying out the PAR complete the document.

This will be an open resource at the finalisation of the project available for youth workers and organisations.