Guide Helps Organizations Engage Youth in Program Evaluation
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.