Report Shares Benefits of Engaging Adolescents in Research and Evaluation Projects

Posted November 3, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Three Black young people take a group selfie outdoors.

A new guide seeks to help foun­da­tions and oth­er fun­ders enhance the effec­tive­ness of their grantees’ youth-engaged research and eval­u­a­tion projects. Pub­lished by UCLA’s Cen­ter for the Devel­op­ing Ado­les­cent and fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the guide sum­ma­rizes ways devel­op­men­tal sci­ence can max­i­mize the ben­e­fits of youth-engaged projects for young peo­ple, pro­grams and orga­ni­za­tions and pro­vides a tool to assess the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges of such investments.

Ado­les­cence is a time when young peo­ple have unique oppor­tu­ni­ties for learn­ing, explo­ration and growth and for recov­ery from ear­ly adver­si­ty, accord­ing to a report from the Nation­al Acad­e­mies of Sci­ences, Engi­neer­ing and Med­i­cine, which the Foun­da­tion sup­port­ed as a mem­ber of Fun­ders for Ado­les­cent Sci­ence Trans­la­tion (FAST). With appro­pri­ate part­ner­ships between youth and adults, along with train­ing and sup­port, ado­les­cents and young adults can par­tic­i­pate in a wide range of research and eval­u­a­tion activ­i­ties, includ­ing project design, data col­lec­tion and analy­sis and pre­sen­ta­tion of find­ings. When done well, such activ­i­ties pro­vide youth and young adults with skills, increase oppor­tu­ni­ties for equi­ty and improve the qual­i­ty of research and eval­u­a­tion projects.

Young peo­ple can add vital per­spec­tive and tal­ent to research and eval­u­a­tion projects with exper­tise from their own lives,” says Jef­frey Poiri­er, a senior research asso­ciate at Casey. This guide pro­vides resources to help fun­ders meet young peo­ple where they are in these engage­ments and cre­ate con­di­tions that will ben­e­fit both the eval­u­a­tion and the young people.”

Effec­tive Youth Engage­ment in Research

The guide, Lever­ag­ing the Devel­op­men­tal Sci­ence of Ado­les­cence to Pro­mote Youth Engage­ment in Research and Eval­u­a­tion, notes that effec­tive youth-engaged projects account for impor­tant dis­tinc­tions between three age groups: 10- to 14-year-olds, 15- to 19-year-olds and 20- to 25-year-olds. The dif­fer­ing capac­i­ties and expe­ri­ences of these groups can inform such fund­ing con­sid­er­a­tions as the type and lev­el of adult sup­port need­ed and the over­all scope of youth engage­ment in a project.

Effec­tive youth engage­ment projects, the guide observes, require time, plan­ning and resources. Fun­der-grantee com­mu­ni­ca­tions about such projects should include:

  • well-defined met­rics for mean­ing­ful youth engagement;
  • clear­ly artic­u­lat­ed plans, with real­is­tic bud­gets and time frames; and 
  • assess­ments of a project’s align­ment with the funder’s orga­ni­za­tion­al met­rics and the lev­el of sup­port avail­able for these investments.

Eval­u­at­ing Research Pro­pos­als Involv­ing Youth

A key sec­tion of the guide is an eight-part tem­plate designed to help fun­ders think through all the ele­ments of an effec­tive, devel­op­men­tal­ly appro­pri­ate research and eval­u­a­tion project that engages youth. More­over, the tem­plate can facil­i­tate dis­cus­sions between fun­ders and grantees to strength­en pro­pos­als for such projects.

The young peo­ple are rarely the biggest chal­lenge in youth-engaged projects,” writes the guide’s author, Ahna Suleiman. Most often, prepar­ing adult researchers and eval­u­a­tors to effec­tive­ly engage with young peo­ple is the great­est challenge.”

The guide includes a com­pre­hen­sive list of online, Eng­lish-lan­guage resources that sup­port youth-engaged research and evaluation.

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