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Extension > Youth Development Insight > Youth programs need bricoleurs (that's you)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Youth programs need bricoleurs (that's you)

By Pamela Larson Nippolt

Today, youth workers are expected to be social innovators. Francis Westley teaches us about the place for bricolage in designing innovative programs that address critical issues facing youth. Bricolage is the “DIY” of program design or, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, “construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand; also something constructed in this way.”

Reading this got me thinking about youth program designers who adapt and take advantage of what they already know about, what they need to yet learn, and what is readily available for use as they innovate through their programs and the systems in which these live.

Westley explains that “Part of building resilience in complex systems is strengthening cultures of innovation. These are cultures that value diversity, because as any bricoleur knows, the more (and more different) the parts, the greater the possibility of new and radical combinations. But these cultures also need to encourage the kind of communication and engagement that allows disparate elements to meet and mingle, and that allows for experimentation and support rather than blame. Such cultures support social innovation, and social innovation in turn builds resilience.”

Is a “simple” youth program a relic of the past?  Ask most any youth program leader (and by leader, I mean anyone designing and implementing programs for youth), and he or she is likely to tell a story about their efforts to deliver a multi-layered program model while striving to reach some pretty life-changing outcomes with youth. The stakes, as they say, are high -- more and more program staff are working with youth in rich contexts, through collaborative partnerships, and expecting to achieve outcomes that are interrelated and complex. It’s an exciting and uncertain time to be leading youth programs as youth workers and educators are asked (and yes, expected) to wear the hat of social innovator.

As any youth who has created a 4-H project knows, a successful bricoleur is both intentional AND adaptive to the emerging situation at hand.  Do you have a bumper raspberry crop in the backyard?  Let’s learn how to make jam and can.  Does the shooting sports club need a pistol stand and we have wood left over from dad’s cabinet work?  Let’s find a pattern.

What examples of program bricolage have you seen? What brings out your inner bricoleur?

-- Pamela Larson Nippolt, evaluation and research specialist

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