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LEEAD Fellows Alumni Curated Week: Creating Safe, Inclusive, & Empowering Spaces for Youth in Research and Evaluation by Tanisha Tate Woodson

Hi. My name is Tanisha Tate Woodson, Principal Evaluator and Strategist at Woodson Insights, LLC, and the Director of Research Equity at DHM Research. I am a culturally responsive researcher who specializes in using community-driven data to impact change and transform systems. My praxis and approach to evaluation are rooted in the belief that those closest to the issues know what is needed to transform their lives.

Have you tried to include youth and young adults in your work but found it challenging to ensure their perspectives were not overshadowed by adults? Have you noticed that adults, caregivers, and parents are often used as proxies for youth’s perspectives? Incorporating DEI principles into our work calls for us to first define what the terms mean. When working in client and community spaces, I typically start the engagement by defining common terms to ensure we collectively think of the situation and the problem through a similar lens. One of the terms we often define is DEI. In many instances, I have seen people place emphasis on diversity (making sure we consider asking various populations and groups) but ignore Equity (creating equitable spaces through the sharing of power and resources) and Inclusion (creating spacing that provides a sense of belonging and comfort). In my practice of CREE, I aim to place a hyperfocus on equity, the sharing and balanced distribution of power, and resources. I make sure that equity is part of the process and outcome of the evaluation.

During the pandemic, we noticed a spike in youth suicide rates, especially among Black youth in Portland, Oregon. To address the issue head-on, a group of us came together to develop a culturally specific suicide prevention curriculum. Our approach centers the voices and perspectives of youth to understand how to effectively talk to youth about mental health and wellness. We are using an arts-based approach that deeply engages youth; finding a way for them to creatively express themselves. To this end, we are conducting photo journaling, video journaling, and focus groups to hear from youth about their experiences with mental health. The data captured will directly inform the development of the curriculum. We no longer want to rely solely on adults to train other adults on how to speak to and engage with youth, but rather, we want to depend on youth to tell us and train others on the best practices and strategies for engaging other youth and young adults. 

Lessons Learned

  1. Creating diverse spaces is not enough. To meaningfully engage youth, research practitioners need to create an environment where youth and young adults feel empowered and have an equitable opportunity to shape decisions and outcomes in the community. 
  2. When engaging youth, consider power dynamics. Youth and young adults attending advisory and community groups with adults may not feel empowered to voice their opinions. 
  3. Engage youth in the way in which they would like to express themselves.
  4. Encourage the communities to feel more empowered about engaging in research and support them in transforming their communities. Highlight the power of data and hire youth data collectors.

Rad Resources

There are tons of resources on the power of using arts and creative expression to engage youth in research and evaluation:

  1. Photovoice as a Method for Revealing Community Perceptions of the Built and Social Environment
  2. Implementing Photovoice in Your Community
  3. Photovoice and Empowerment: Evaluating the Transformative Potential of a Participatory Action Research Project
  4. Photo-Based Evaluation: A Method for Participatory Evaluation With Adolescents

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