Guide Helps Organizations Engage Youth in Program Evaluation

Posted February 21, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Three young people of color sit at a table, smiling and looking at a laptop screen.

Youth Engage­ment in Research and Eval­u­a­tion, a new guide for youth-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions, makes a com­pelling case for part­ner­ing with young peo­ple in the eval­u­a­tion of pro­grams and poli­cies. Pub­lished by the UCLA Cen­ter for the Devel­op­ing Ado­les­cent and fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the guide also includes tools to help orga­ni­za­tions cre­ate and enact a youth engage­ment plan.

The Casey Foun­da­tion’s Jef­frey Poiri­er notes that orga­ni­za­tions can use the guide to incor­po­rate best prac­tices for engag­ing youth in eval­u­a­tion. Many orga­ni­za­tions val­ue the per­spec­tives and skills of young peo­ple but may not know how to incor­po­rate these assets into eval­u­a­tion design through an authen­tic part­ner­ship,” he says. This guide pro­vides prac­ti­cal advice to make the most of these part­ner­ships and strength­en eval­u­a­tion findings.”

How to Engage Young People

Lever­ag­ing youth in eval­u­a­tion requires fund­ing, time and care­ful plan­ning. Youth Engage­ment in Research and Eval­u­a­tion has sev­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions for orga­ni­za­tions under­tak­ing this work.

  • The work of eval­u­at­ing pro­grams and engag­ing youth requires dif­fer­ent skills and capac­i­ties. Prepar­ing adult researchers to effec­tive­ly engage with young peo­ple is often a chal­lenge. Some adults need train­ing in pow­er-shar­ing with young peo­ple — for exam­ple: learn­ing how to embrace youth feed­back rather than deflect­ing it.
  • Col­lab­o­rat­ing with young peo­ple requires mutu­al trust. The full eval­u­a­tion team should dis­cuss how deci­sions will be made and clear­ly out­line who has deci­sion-mak­ing author­i­ty over which parts of the evaluation.
  • The age and devel­op­men­tal stage of par­tic­i­pat­ing youth mat­ter. Young peo­ple in dif­fer­ent age groups (10 to 14 years old, 15 to 19 years old and 20 to 25 years old) have dif­fer­ent rights and capacities.

Rec­og­niz­ing these dif­fer­ences can inform the type and lev­el of adult sup­port need­ed. It can also help to pro­tect against the tokenism and exploita­tion of youth and max­i­mize the ben­e­fits of their participation.

When to Col­lab­o­rate on Evaluation

Rig­or­ous­ly eval­u­at­ing pro­grams and poli­cies is key to gaug­ing their effec­tive­ness and mak­ing improve­ments. More­over, engag­ing young peo­ple served by an orga­ni­za­tion can pro­vide impor­tant insights into an eval­u­at­ed pro­gram or policy’s impact in a real-world environment. 

Youth Engage­ment sug­gests the ide­al time to engage youth as part­ners in eval­u­a­tion efforts is between the ages of 10 and 25. With­in this age range, young peo­ple con­tin­u­al­ly test assump­tions and learn from their expe­ri­ences, accord­ing to the sci­ence of ado­les­cent devel­op­ment.

When done well, these col­lab­o­ra­tions can ben­e­fit every­one involved. For example:

  • Youth can build skills and gain expe­ri­ences that pos­i­tive­ly affect their development.
  • Adults in youth-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions can enhance their under­stand­ing of young people’s pri­or­i­ties and development.
  • Orga­ni­za­tions can increase oppor­tu­ni­ties for equi­ty and improve the qual­i­ty, rel­e­vance and impact of their work.

As the guide states: Engag­ing youth in eval­u­a­tion is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to sup­port young people’s pos­i­tive devel­op­ment, build the skills and capac­i­ties of adult staff and improve the qual­i­ty of pro­grams, poli­cies and services.”

A Diverse Toolbox 

Youth Engage­ment includes a detailed check­list aimed at help­ing orga­ni­za­tions cre­ate a youth engage­ment plan. Users must field ques­tions about a vari­ety of top­ics, including:

  • their project goals;
  • the young peo­ple engaged;
  • the dis­tri­b­u­tion of power;
  • the scope of youth work;
  • the efforts relat­ed to recruit­ing and retain­ing young people;
  • the orga­ni­za­tion­al resources avail­able; and 
  • the eval­u­a­tion of youth engage­ment efforts.

The pub­li­ca­tion also iden­ti­fies cur­ric­u­la for train­ing youth as eval­u­a­tors and pro­vides links to resources to build adult capac­i­ty for engag­ing youth.

Explore Youth Engage­ment in Research and Evaluation

Popular Posts

View all blog posts   |   Browse Topics

Youth with curly hair in pink shirt

blog   |   June 3, 2021

Defining LGBTQ Terms and Concepts

A mother and her child are standing outdoors, each with one arm wrapped around the other. They are looking at each other and smiling. The child has a basketball in hand.

blog   |   August 1, 2022

Child Well-Being in Single-Parent Families