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CEA Week: Valuing Youth Voices in Evaluation by Amanda Lambie, Cara Karter, and Michelle Lopez

Hello, we are Amanda Lambie, Cara Karter, and Michelle Lopez, three members of the Research & Evaluation team at After School Matters. As internal evaluators for an out-of-school time provider, we highly value youth voice as an essential ingredient in positive youth development. So we love that this year’s AEA theme is Speak Truth to Power.

Why promote youth voices in your work? Because when young people are placed in a position to be heard, that opportunity…

  • Builds their self-determination and motivation which can affect academic, social, and technical skill development1.
  • Improves their sense of ownership and belonging which can increase program engagement and participation1.
  • Positions them in a place of influence, challenging traditional societal power dynamics and encouraging civic engagement2.
  • Affirms an ethical ideal that participants deserve the opportunity to speak and be heard2.

Hot Tips:

  1. Include an open-response field in your end of session participant surveys. Approximately one-third of the teens in our programs provide comments about their experience. Our team reads every single one, categorizes them into themes, and shares them with our staff. Teen responses inform decisions we make across the organization – about recruitment, instructor professional development, programming, and more.
  2. Plan to regularly conduct focus groups or interviews with participants and compensate them for their time. We engaged 180 teens last year through focus groups and interviews to collect teen feedback about new initiatives or policies. We hold focus groups and interviews immediately before or after a program in the same location and we provide gift cards to participants. It can be expensive, but minimizes burden and reinforces the value of participants’ time and effort.
  3. Test your surveys using cognitive interviews3. Ever wonder what participants think of your survey? Stop wondering and do some cognitive interviewing to find out! Not only is this a great way to incorporate participant voices in your work, but it also results in a more valid and reliable instrument. Win-win!
  4. Employ a participant as an intern. Participants can help you develop more relevant indicators, identify themes in data you may be missing, and collect data that you may have been unable to collect.

Rad Resources:

  1. “Keeping it real”: An evaluation audit of five years of youth-led program evaluation
  2. Sound, presence, and power: “Student voice” in educational research and reform.
  3. Cognitive interviewing: A “how to” guide


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Chicagoland Evaluation Association (CEA) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from CEA members. 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


7 thoughts on “CEA Week: Valuing Youth Voices in Evaluation by Amanda Lambie, Cara Karter, and Michelle Lopez”

  1. Hi Amanda, Cara, and Michelle!

    I am currently an Online Professional Master of Education Student through Queen’s University and a full-time Recreation and Events Coordinator. My interest in education and working with youth developing programming led me to your post.

    I thoroughly enjoy that you are placing such an emphasis on the impact of youth voice and tips for generating an environment in which youth feel comfortable speaking up and providing feedback.

    As I am currently studying my way through a Program Evaluation and Inquiry course, I have found your post to be relative in the sense that when working to develop programming for youth, I am often looking for ways to generate the most effective feedback from those youth. Sometimes I struggle to get youth to take voicing their opinions seriously in fear that they may seem “silly” to their peers.

    I like the idea of conducting a focus group meeting where judgement is left at the door. I also really enjoy your tip about employing youth as an intern. I find that when giving youth responsibility they feel valued and more compelled to provide feedback.

    Thanks so much and I look forward to reading through your recommended resources.

  2. Hi Amanada, Cara and Michelle,
    Like some of the other commentors, I am also a graduate student at Queens University taking a course in Program Inquiry and Evaluation. In the course we are creating our own program evaluation and the program I am using works with ‘at-risk’ young women and trans youth and so I found your article particularily interesting. In four very succinct points, you have clearly stated benefits of using youth voices beyond the information they would be providing about the program. In my case, part of the program evaluation would be looking at changes in students self-efficacy and as you so clearly indicated, the act of participating in the evaluation helps promote that self-efficacy. This aligns with our understanding about how participation in evaluation itself can be a means for change.
    I am looking forward to investigating your recommended resources.
    Thank you,

  3. Thank you for your thoughts in this article addressing the importance of youth voices in evaluation. I am a graduate student through Queens University and am currently taking a course in program inquiry and evaluation. I found this article relevant and interesting to my learnings throughout this course.
    I am also a middle school teacher so often am considering how to involve the voices of my students in decision making, updating my own teaching and gaining insight and opinions from them. I have had many experiences that you listed about the impact that can be made on youth when they are included; improving their motivation, belonging and affirming that they deserve to be heard.
    Did you always include the youth voice into your evaluations? If not, have you seen a change in your understanding and effectiveness of your evaluations? Something I would like to implement into my own evaluations in my teaching is to test my surveys with my participants. Such a good idea to ask participants to see what they think of your evaluations techniques to ensure you are targeting the audience most effectively.
    I look forward to learning more about your suggestions for effective evaluation with the youth voice through your website
    Thank you for your thoughts,
    Julie Dinner.

  4. Hello!

    My name is Alanna, and I am currently a graduate student undertaking courses at Queen’s University to attain a Professional Master of Education. I am a kindergarten teacher in Alberta that works specifically with a small group of children who come from backgrounds of trauma, abuse and neglect. For these reasons your post really drew me in. First of all, thank you for the thoughtful and impactful tips! My personal beliefs directly align with yours considering the demographic I work with, thus I am very invested in learning as much as I can about how to help this particular group!

    I love that you outlined the importance of valuing the youth voice. Student centred learning is directly connected to this, and in my teachings using the Reggio Emelia approach, I solely base my planning according to the comments and desires of the learners. As a result, I find that the children are more engaged and show greater creativity at school. Like you stated in your article, giving youth a voice empowers, motivates, and builds their sense of ownership and responsibility. Connecting your tips here to the agency I work within, I can definitely see how including an open response section at the end of the year surveys that are sent home can help influence the way the agency structures activities and engages with families. I wonder about how we could make this work with families who are new to Canada and do not speak english as their first language. Regardless of this barrier, I think that possibly providing the survey electronically in multiple languages is a way to have families (not just the older brothers and sisters) provide their feedback of the programs and supports we offer. This would be invaluable!

    The point about employing an intern is something the agency has done for some time, and I have seen first hand how effective this can be!

    Do you have any suggestions on how to apply your tips directly to a demographic of low income families other than what I had suggested?

    Thanks so much for your tips!



  5. Enjoyed this post and the supporting research! Hoping more student-directed evaluation is on its way. Youth have experiences, capabilities and understanding representing diversity in evaluation.

  6. Hello, there!

    I am a Student Success Teacher working primarily with struggling or at-/in-risk grade 9 and 10 students, and I’m in the midst of completing a course on program evaluation in the Professional Master of Education program through Queen’s University. Part of my role in the Student Success Program is to determine how to improve our program over the next year, through an internal evaluation process. We’ve discovered an issue in facilitating the development of executive functioning, including personal accountability and goal-setting: some of the students we assist and support with the transition to high school in grade 9 and 10 continue to need significant assistance in grades 11 and 12, when they are expected to be more in charge of their learning. Somehow, we need to help these senior students to become self-directed learners, getting them to take ownership of their efforts rather than remaining dependent on the Student Success Team.

    One element I definitely want to include in my internal evaluation is student voice. I’ve realized during my learning in this course, that I was on the way to omitting or neglecting their input due to my assumptions and accustomed practice as a classroom teacher. However, I recognize that as our clients or service recipients, we need to hear what they need and how they view their experiences in our program for all of the reasons you’ve listed in your article.

    Student Success at my school doesn’t hold sessions per se, but we could survey our students at the beginning and end of each semester, or each term perhaps. How long do your sessions last? Would you recommend that as an effective time period for obtaining feedback? Do you conduct your focus groups or interviews during the session as well, and could that be considered process use? And given your numbers, how long does collating and analysis of your survey results take? Do you use the same surveys over again, or change them dependent on that year’s activities and demographics? And finally, how do you elicit feedback from reluctant or struggling participants?

    Thank you again for sharing your terrific suggestions — from a quick scan of your program’s website, I anticipate learning more about effective ways to support and assist our youth. I sense that many of your practices could be highly applicable in my program, and look forward to sharing what I learn from you with my colleagues and peers.

    Best wishes,
    Victoria Wooldridge

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