Greetings! I am Madhawa “Mads” Palihapitiya, an evaluator from UMass Boston. I have been using participatory approaches to needs assessment and asset mapping with youth for a while now.
I have been evaluating The Youth Conflict Resolution & Restorative Practices Program administered by Massachusetts’ statutory state dispute resolution office (MOPC) for the past eight years. This program aims to reduce youth violence through positive youth development strategies.
The evaluation aimed to uncover significant strengths as well as needs in the community where “at-risk” youth live in order to develop successful public programs and policies. Community problems, such as youth violence are often characterized in terms of needs defined as deficiencies that require external input, without much regard to harnessing inherent strengths and capacities. Research on evaluation demonstrates the importance of leveraging the strengths of youth in contributing to their development as well as the development of programs, communities, and society as a whole.
Asset-based evaluation approach works well with youth: Asset-based assessment can increase self-esteem of individuals and communities as well as their coping abilities, which may lead to less dependency on external services over time. The evidence from this project also indicates that youth obtained skills for comprehensive recording and analysis of personal and group histories, injustices as well as positive experiences like resolving conflict through sports, mediation, problem-solving and dialogue.
Participatory approaches like PhotoVoice empower the powerless: Participatory approaches, particularly PhotoVoice can unlock the creative potential in marginalized youth and, combined with photo elicitation dialogues and storytelling meetings, empower them while generating a significant amount of evaluation data in the process. Participants can interpret the data in group sense-making exercises facilitated by the evaluators resulting in more accurate analysis and the identification of critical deficits as well as existing community assets.
Examine negative, but also positive relationships where possible: Evaluators should strive to examine not just the negative (deficit) but also the positive (assets/capacity-building) relationship between various groups. In this project, we identified trust development between local police representatives and black youth, and that mentoring by older black men for “at risk” young black men fostered good-decision making and leadership skills, as well as lessons in self-care, social responsibility, personal development and career awareness among the youth.
Cultural sensitivity or lack thereof can make or break your evaluation: We paid particular attention to the ethnic/racial background of evaluators, trainers, facilitators, and even interns to ensure that they looked like the youths themselves. This enabled deeper dialogue, trust and increased sharing of personal trials and tribulations.
Photos, videos and stories can be more powerful than an evaluation report: The project generated many outputs. Key among them was the photos and videos, including digital stories, interviews, footage from training sessions and group discussions, surveys and discussions with adult program staff, to name a few. This material, particularly the photos, videos and narratives has been useful in sharing evaluation findings and program advocacy.
Share digital stories from participatory evaluations using an online exhibition like Artsteps.
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