ICCE TIG Week: Engaging Children in International and Cross-Cultural Evaluations by Michele Tarsilla

Michele Tarsilla
Michele Tarsilla

Dear Colleagues, My name is Michele Tarsilla ( Twitter @ MiEval_TuEval) and I work as Evaluation Adviser at the UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa (I am also Associate Editor of the African Evaluation Journal).

Today, I would like to share with you 5 tips and 10 resources on how to better engage children (“any human being under the age of 18” ) in international and cross-cultural evaluations, especially at a time when the prominent use of distant data collection methods (due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions) risk undermining  the voices of children affected by the ongoing crisis.

Hot Tip # 1: Try to “walk the equity talk” and engage children fully in your evaluations. To this end, move as much as possible towards the right of the Child-Focused Evaluation Spectrum (see below). Most evaluations have been conducted “ON” children for decades, meaning that children have been treated as “evaluation objects” and therefore assessed through a desk review or secondary data analysis. Similarly, many other evaluations have “CONCERNED” children, whereby adult respondents (e.g., parents, teachers, etc.) have spoken about children’s issues on their behalf.  Next, a growing number of recent evaluations have been undertaken in collaboration “WITH” children, meaning that children– ethical clearance allowing- have been asked directly about issues affecting them. Lastly, a few more evaluations have been conducted “ BY” children collecting primary data themselves and analyzing them in a participatory fashion.  

Hot Tip # 2: You do not need to work on a Child Program evaluation to engage children. Engaging children in evaluation is not just “something nice to do”- it is a necessary act of responsibility and accountability. As of 2015, UN data showed that children under 18 accounted for 47% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, a more systematic integration of children’s opinions and experiences into evaluations will contribute to more effective recommendations towards sustainable programmatic/policy improvements.

Hot Tip # 3: When conducting a child-focused evaluation, follow a Human-Rights Based Approach and  frame the related questions and rubrics based on global normative documents, namely The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), which recognize both the children’s right to freely express themselves and the adults’ duty to listen to children’s voice.

Hot Tip # 4: Engage Children creatively. Use participatory and fun data collection methods as Photovoice, Body Mapping and the H-Method. However, for these methods to be effective and transformative, make sure that they be appropriate to the specific age group whom you will be working with.

Hot Tip # 5: Gain field experience in child-focused evaluation to avert the risk of “doing harm” during overseas assignments. This could entail: (i) running pro-bono evaluation activities with local youth groups in your community; (ii) discussing Specialized Literature on Child-Focused Evaluation with your peers: (iii) consulting dedicated Websites; and (iv) studying Ethical Guidelines on Working with Children in Evaluation .

Rad Resource: UNICEF 3D Animation on Engaging Children in Evaluation Planning  and Evaluation Data Collection.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating International and Cross-Cultural (ICCE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the International and Cross-Cultural Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our ICCE 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. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

5 thoughts on “ICCE TIG Week: Engaging Children in International and Cross-Cultural Evaluations by Michele Tarsilla”

  1. Hello Michele,

    My current context is that I am a Professional Masters of Education with Queens University and a grade 8 French Immersion teacher from British Columbia. I am currently in a course called Program Inquiry and Evaluation where we have been studying the various aspects that encompass the field.

    I find your article quite interesting in that it speaks about engaging children (under 18) in the evaluation process. In reading your article, I hold a couple of perspectives- my capacity as a teacher evaluating my students and that of a Masters student learning about the role of evaluations and that of an evaluator.

    In looking at the “Child Focused Evaluation Spectrum” visual, it serves as a good reminder as a teacher where I land in the process of evaluating my students. I can speak to my personal experience with projects that are more hands-on engagement of myself and student yielding better results. It allows for interventions, if required, and students to provide honest feedback (verbal or written) on their process. By the end of a project, students are better able to self-evaluate and reflect on aspects that were their strengths and stretches. What is especially astonishing is that students with a low self-efficacy are then able to produce something that breaks that pattern of belief of “not being good enough” to build confidence.

    In learning about the different types of approaches, the participatory evaluation immediately comes to mind where it involves stakeholders in the evaluation process. This approach can be done at any stage of a program, but the intent remains the same, maximizing the effectiveness. In doing so, collecting data can be done in a variety of ways, especially if the stakeholders include children. It can be self-assessments in using rubrics, reflections, diagrams etc. The value this approach offers, and what I have experienced firsthand, is the increased level of empowerment, self-awareness, personal growth with a greater sense of accomplishment. As mentioned in your article, evaluators must cater evaluations based on their context as it is a necessary act of responsibility and accountability. Children have the right to be heard and integrated into the process as it impacts them.
    Thank you,

  2. Hello Michele,
    I think it is important to see children as more than just test subjects but to actually consider their thoughts and feelings as the human beings that they are, in order to improve the treatments for programs directed to children.

  3. Hi Michele,

    My name is McKinley and I am a secondary school teacher in Ontario, Canada, and I am currently completing my Masters of Education. I really enjoyed reading your post and seeing the resources you suggest as a way to bring children into the evaluation process.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your take that in the past, adults have taken the liberty to complete evaluations on behalf of children, instead of giving young people agency to participate themselves. Youth have incredible ideas and opinions, and it is essential that we give them platforms to share these perspectives.

    I am really looking forward to incorporating some of the resources you listed in your post in my classroom and adapting them to help support young adults participate in the evaluation process in their local community. I was wondering if there was a specific resource that you have found to be more helpful than others and what types of evaluations you have completed using it?

    Thanks again for sharing!


  4. I enjoyed reading your submission. As a lifelong educator and Vice-Principal, your ideas ring true in a Canadian school context. I especially appreciated: “Hot Tip # 1: Try to ‘walk the equity talk’ and engage children fully in your evaluations.”

    Children are an invaluable source of insightful information about their own education. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, teaching and encouraging students to engage in the process of evaluating or judging their own learning is at the top of the hierarchy of learning. Prioritizing the development of critical thinking skills, in the forms of evaluation and subsequent creation, is a means by which to access student voice and encourage personal and political advocacy. Embedding the participation and feedback of students in the evaluation of programs about students will result in more authentic and meaningful program development and evaluation.

    I am also looking forward to exploring the resources you suggested in “Hot Tip # 4: Engage Children creatively.”. Photovoice appears to integrate the best parts of learning; creativity, goal-setting, and metacognition. Have you used it in your field work?

    Thanks for your contribution.

  5. J’aimerais travailler avec vous dans un organisme humanitaire, je suis au Canada, j’aimerais ça vraiment travailler sur le terrain avec d’autres personnes. C’est un projet rêvé.

    Merci de votre courage

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