Developing a Multilevel Framework for Addressing Complex Frontline Practices in Youth Unemployment

By applying a multilevel framework for addressing these global and highly complex frontline practices, we may produce new knowledge for the strategies and practices of welfare work with young unemployed people. A real-life setting approach was applied, building on actual cases and practices in situational activity in five Nordic countries.

In developing the research design we used an exploratory phase to establish a context-sensitive approach. This phase included negotiations with interested frontline practitioners. The research plan was discussed and formed in negotiations with the research sites before entering the field. Second, the methodology was tested locally and comparatively by developing a reflexive process and contextsensitive interview formula.

A context-sensitive reflective evaluation method (Yliruka 2011) was used to test how the cases could be reflected in a systematic manner and at the same to build up expertise within the organization. In this kind of knowledge development, the goal is to do more than enhance the expertise of an individual or an organization, but also to help individuals and communities create new tools for learning, tools that respond to the continuous changes of modern working life (Yliruka and Karvinen-Niinikoski 2013). Furthermore, the discursive approach was initiated and tested in order to build a solid ground for structuring the document analysis in a comparative perspective.

In each agency a group of social workers were asked to discuss their work with unemployed youth on the basis of a case (a young unemployed person with no work and no income). The questions were as follows: What choices and decisions would they be expected to make and on what bases? What measures and solutions would they suggest and why (contribution to goal attainment)? Which routines and regulations on organizational and system levels influence their suggestions and how?
This exploratory phase lead to the development of a multilevel approach that can be used to gain insight at the policy level, the organizational level and at the individual level, concerning both the young people themselves and the professionals involved.

The Organizational Level

Our main starting point is the organizational level. A comparative ethnographic study is performed in which we analyze the concrete structuring of social work in local organizations in the Nordic countries. Hjörne, Juhila and Nijnatten (2010) emphasize that in the era of managerialism, dilemmas should be approached as empirical matters: how are they present, talked into being and negotiated in naturally occurring practices of street-level welfare work, and with what consequences? How are the changing conditions surrounding practices in youth unemployment described by the practitioners and the users? Who are the dominant actors in this field? And what are the encounters in welfare agencies?

All too often a common point of departure when analysing social work practice has been the goals and intentions of the interventions and as a consequence little has been said about the agency of the user (Eskelinen and Olesen 2010). The project's interest has also been directed at how users contribute to understandings of the local context. Methodologically we have built on case observations, interviews, and case reflections in local settings. Here we challenge the discourses in the national settings from a Nordic perspective by looking at the logic, practice theories and mechanisms that generate the actual conditions.

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