The final section of this chapter draws out the main implications in respect of future programme development and policy. In terms of programme development it offers some lessons that may prove helpful to those seeking to establish similar services. The policy implications section summarises the influences of policy issues and factors on the GOAL programmes, and the messages for policy from the GOAL project’s experiences.
Implications for future programme development
The findings from this pilot strongly suggest that counsellors for low-educated adults need a portfolio, or toolbox, of different counselling tools, from which they can select those that best suit the individual client’s needs and goals. This is in keeping with the individualised, “custom-fit” approach to counselling. As the Icelandic report emphasises, the adjustment of tools according to individual needs is a continuing process. As with a number of the intervention strategies, understanding the needs of the target group is vitally important, and as this knowledge increases, so tools will require continuing development and adjustment. Networking amongst specialists can be very beneficial in this process, especially with regard to sharing tools and practices.
The downside of this, however, is that there is a risk that there will be so much diversity that it could be difficult to structuralise support for counsellors and evaluate where there is a need for better or more tools. Flanders has taken a step in the direction of systematisation by mapping tools. It would make sense to implement, at specific intervals, the three-stage model for the monitoring of the use of guidance tools used during the GOAL programme (tools-mapping, selection and monitoring) across the entire network and for other projects as well that make use of a guidance process. This would eliminate those tools that are not used or that do not serve their purpose, and add new tools and enable their use to be monitored; moreover, those tools that are actually in use could be evaluated and upgraded where required. This would create and upgrade the database of tools, which would be available to everyone in the network. For example, current compilations of tools (e.g. published on Euroguidance platform) are targeted for school-age students. A similar platform could be established or supplemented for professionals working with adults. Conversely, where partnerships and networks are small, or not sufficiently active, this may limit the possibilities for exchanging tools and learning about good practice. All the GOAL national teams reported seeing that benefits can be drawn from exchanging experiences and resources on guidance tools on an international platform, perhaps more so than on any of the intervention strategies.
There is a recognition that the flexible and contextual use of tools is more feasible for more experienced counsellors than for the less experienced ones. In that sense, having good manuals for tool use along with mentorship programmes and cooperation between the more and less experienced counsellors is crucial for the development of sound judgement about which tools are the most appropriate for each client. In addition to guidelines supporting tool selection and use, counsellors in GOAL did benefit from the use of the data monitoring tool. Though originally conceived as an evaluation instrument, this tool served as an effective means for providing a general structure to guidance sessions, and for collecting contextual and specific data that was essential in understanding clients and addressing their needs. A version of this data monitoring instrument, modified to suit local needs, could be used by future programmes. This would support a general model of guidance, while also facilitating the collection of data for monitoring and evaluation purposes.
The policy implications of guidance tool development are perhaps less clear than for the other intervention strategies: with some exceptions, it is not an area where policy visibly has an effect. Decisions about tools and work on the development of tools largely being the responsibility of professionals in the field.
Influences of policy
There is a need to maintain a balanced policy-framework for the development of tools – support for counsellors to develop new tools and share experience without being too prescriptive but allowing professional autonomy in tool-use.
Data sharing is a contentious topic, and national policies on data protection vary. In the GOAL project, data policy influenced what information could and could not be collected by the national evaluation teams, and what information could be shared within countries. This has implications for counselling services seeking to develop their programmes on the basis of what has been learned, or which are attempting to construct referral arrangements to other organisations. Data-sharing privileges and tools would support partnership working and the accurate measurement of longer term programme outcomes.
The Iceland pilot was able to be more rigorous about training staff in using tools because of the status of counsellors there, with the profession being licensed.
Messages for policy
As illustrated in Slovenia, cost can be a barrier to effective tool use: some tools require a subscription, licence or other form of payment, and programmes may not have sufficient resources to afford this. Policy should take into account the potential benefits providing funds so that programmes can “try and buy” appropriate tools.
Policy environments should support cross-organisational and cross-sectoral sharing of tools. As shown in Iceland, counsellors in one sector can learn from counsellors in another, particularly with regard to specialist tools for particular target groups.
Any policy that supports cross-domain working should support counsellors in identifying the full range of tools to deal with their clients’ complex needs. Where adult education is fragmented then the same problems identified in the section on counsellor competences and professional development will arise – that is, where does the responsibility for developing tools lie?
A more systematised and formal adult education landscape would support greater sharing and coherence in this regard, supporting knowledge of and access to up-to-date toolkits or databases of tools. Cross-sectoral methods groups would potentially encourage innovation and the development of new tools from the ground up, as well as supporting counsellors’ learning about different tools and how best to use them, and with whom.