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BECOME Week: Using Art in Evaluation by Keisha Farmer-Smith

Hi, my name is Keisha Farmer-Smith from Become, better known as Dr. Kei-Kei! I received my nickname from young people in an afterschool program while conducting evaluation and outcomes work. It is an honor to learn from children and help create quality youth development programs. Artwork is one way to creatively explore program strengths, opportunities, and challenges.

Recently, I had the opportunity to use artwork in evaluating an innovative program, Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering (ChiS&E). In ChiS&E, “little engineers” aged 6-9 explore their community and have fun! The program’s mission is to increase the number of historically underrepresented African American and Latino students who are motivated and academically prepared to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  As a part of a longitudinal program evaluation, ChiS&E youth participated in interviews with an art component.  Little engineers were invited to draw pictures of their ChiS&E experiences:

1st grade drawings from science & engineering experience

1st grade drawings- students demonstrate a strong understanding of experiment steps and the chemical engineers’ tasks when combining components to get a reaction as well as enthusiasm about lab work.  The figures in the pictures are smiling and working.

Elijah: We put the vinegar and baking soda in the water bottle, we went outside and put the cork on it the cork exploded off the water bottle.

Evaluator: Awesome! And that’s what chemical engineers do? They do things like that?

Elijah: (nods head)

Evaluator: And what about you, Paola, what did you draw?

Paola: I was trying to put the hand up here to hold it and the bottle was bubbling, and the bubbles that had air on it was putting the air inside the balloon.

Lessons Learned: When evaluating youth programming, art-based activities are an exceptional way to learn because:

  • Drawing artwork together builds rapport and engages program participants. Young people may feel uncomfortable talking to unknown evaluators/adults. Art-based activities are a fun, nonthreatening way to break the ice.
  • Art is a great communication tool. When young people explain their art, relevant and meaningful information about programming is shared. During this process, it is incredibly important for adult evaluators to actively listen as youth share the intent and meaning behind their artwork.
  • Art can be a strength-based tool. When young people make art it affirms their vision, voice, and opinion. As the artist, the young person has power to explore topics that are important to them.
  • Using art as an evaluation tool helps evaluators collect rich, interesting and valuable information. Sometimes, it is easier to express emotions and experiences while drawing. Art-based evaluation should always be accompanied by a listening or discussion session.
  • Using art as an evaluation tool is not difficult. From stick figures to complicated images, art is fun for everyone! The artist’s skill level doesn’t matter because the story behind the art can still be shared.

Rad Resources:

Americans for the Arts and Boston Youth Arts Evaluation Project demonstrate two of the many resources for using art in youth program evaluation.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Become: Community Engagement and Social Change week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from authors associated with Become. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Barbara Mavor · January 24, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    I love the pictures, thank you for sharing Dr Kei-Kei. We have used photographs in evaluations in schools. eg we asked students to take a photograph of what helped them to learn. One student set up 2 different chairs and 2 different stools in a circle – her explanation: “it shows we’re all different, have different ways of thinking and can still work really well together, learn from each other and help each other”. The school vision was about collaboration and respect – so we knew it was alive and well. In schools not so strong on vision and empowering learners – the students have taken a picture of their teacher!


    • Keisha · January 30, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      I love that example Barbara! Thank you for sharing it! Using photography is an excellent way to engage youth.


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