LAWG Week: Evaluation Firms: Let’s Hire Youth! by Katie Fritz Fogel and Selam Tilahun

Hello! We’re Katie Fritz Fogel and Selam Tilahun, Research Associates at Rainbow Research, a nonprofit evaluation and applied community research firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building, Sally Leiderman challenges evaluators to imagine “What would anti-racist evaluation look like?”

We see evaluation as one tool for anti-racist community building through creating employment pathways in evaluation for BIPOC, queer and poor youth as well as youth with disabilities.

As meaningful as we find participatory evaluation processes—including training and paid compensation for youth to co-create, implement, and benefit from evaluation processes and products—when such projects end, youth evaluators typically revert to being ‘just’ youth. Meanwhile, we continue in our roles as the ‘expert’ evaluators. Evaluation firms have an opportunity and obligation to shift this power dynamic by creating employment pathways for youth that lead to permanent and sustainable employment in evaluation or related fields.

We’re not there yet, but working on it. We’ve been practicing multiple ways to promote youth in evaluation roles: engaging and supporting teams of young adults through participatory evaluation projects (YPAR-model); introducing high school summer interns to short-term, intensive evaluation work experiences; and hosting college student interns.

Lessons Learned: Facilitate youth participatory evaluation experiences intentionally, with a lens toward ongoing employment.

  • Encourage youth to see the experience as job training, and pay them. Create time to discuss how the skills they are practicing (e.g., customer service, community engagement) through evaluation apply to other fields. Help them update their resumes accordingly.
  • Share your social capital. Explicitly give youth permission to contact you afterwards to facilitate informational interviews or serve as a reference. We’ve been surprised by how many youth involved in short-term projects take us up on this!

Hot Tips and Cool Tricks: Host young adults as evaluation interns.

  • Assume that youth employees come with experiences that add value to the work. Assume they have ideas, knowledge, and expertise to share.
  • Prepare staff to reframe their roles to include mentor and role model.
  • Train staff in how to give productive feedback and create a work climate that supports growth among staff of all ages and experience levels.
  • When reviewing work with them, ask youth evaluators questions that promote critical thinking and reflection.
  • Support youth when they make mistakes. It’s important that interns, like all of us, have opportunities to try new things and potentially not have them pan out as expected.
  • Pay interns as professionals!

Rad Resources: Many organizations can help you connect with youth who want summer- or semester-long internships:

Hot Tip for visitors to Minnesota for Evaluation 2019:

Rainbow Research’s offices are located in a very hip part of town. We’re nearby the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, Walker Art Center and Sculpture Gardens, the American Swedish Institute (where the Turnblad Mansion is a sight to see!), and In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. Any of these places would be a great way to get a taste of the Twin Cities.

We’re looking forward to the fall and the Evaluation 2019 conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). 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 contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to

1 thought on “LAWG Week: Evaluation Firms: Let’s Hire Youth! by Katie Fritz Fogel and Selam Tilahun”

  1. Hi Katie and Selam,

    I often have the pleasure of having student research assistants, graduate and undergraduate students, working with me on projects, and the experience is always richer for their involvement. They often bring new perspectives to projects that challenge me to consider things in different ways.

    I’ve enjoyed many of the posts that have been written by members of Rainbow Research; you look like you have a passionate, and really fun, team. I admire the work that you are doing to build capacity for youth, particularly in terms of helping them identify transferable skills. So much of the work that we do in program evaluation is applicable to other contexts.

    Thank you for emphasizing the need to compensate youth appropriately for the work that they do! With higher education costs being what they are, the notion that internship experience is, or should be, its own reward, creates a system of inequality in which students who have external resources and supports can afford to take advantage of these often-prestigious opportunities while many others cannot. Considered from this perspective, paying your interns as professionals is also just a good business decision since it means that you’ll be getting the best candidates, not just those who can afford to be there.

    I love the idea of evaluation as tool for anti-racist community building through the creation of employment pathways. I am a firm believer in the idea that when we strengthen one part of our community there are always ripples felt in other parts. I’d be very curious to know where the ripples from this initiate lead!

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