CP Week: Alison Baxter on Evaluation and Research Activities With Youth: How Incentives Make a Difference (To Youth and Evaluators)

Greetings State-side colleagues! My name is Alison Baxter and I have the privilege of being an internal evaluator with Pathways to Education Lawrence Heights in Toronto, a holistic after school program for high school students who live in a low income community. My experience has been that engaging youth in evaluation activities is not always an easy task. As a Community Psychologist, it is important to me to ensure that the youth we work with have a voice and input into what happens in the program and decisions that impact on them. Getting the students excited about sharing their perspectives can, at times, be challenging.

Hot Tip: Providing incentives to the students to complete surveys has made a huge difference to me as an evaluator and generated excitement among the students about evaluation research. Collecting data has become a lot easier. Free lunches, ten dollar gift cards and draws for iPods have all been offered and well received by the youth. Since the youth come from families on low incomes and may face barriers to employment, the practice of providing incentives has become like a small community economic development initiative.

Cool Trick: Keep your incentives youth friendly and your data collection tools short and you will boost your response rates.

Lessons Learned: Implementing an incentive initiative takes time for an evaluator. There is administrative work involved. Make sure you are able to carve time out in your busy schedule to complete the work that is required.

I faced an ethical dilemma when I made the decision to provide incentives. The students, living on low incomes, may have participated in the research and the accompanying risks involved more readily due to the cash incentive than they might have otherwise. On some level, it could be seen that I was taking advantage of their vulnerable situation for my own need to acquire data on youth. I resolved my ethical dilemma by ensuring that the data would only be shared with service providers within Pathways to Education who have the power to act on the findings and use the research to make a positive difference in the lives of the youth. Not only were youth being compensated for completing surveys, but their perspectives will assist us to plan and implement programs and initiatives that respond to their needs and interests. Furthermore, I reassured students that their participation was voluntary. The students who were not interested in participating did not hesitate to refuse the request.

We’re celebrating all this week with our colleagues in the American Evaluation Association Community Psychology Topical Interest Group. The contributions all week come from CP TIG 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.

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