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Rob Shumer on Conducting Youth Led Evaluation

What a concept: engaging youth in evaluation of youth/community programs! My name is Rob Shumer and I work at the University of Minnesota where I teach courses on participatory evaluation and youth participatory evaluation. I am a past president of the Minnesota Evaluation Association and have been involved in evaluation/service-learning for the past several decades. I have been learning how to help college students and younger folks learn how to do participatory/empowerment evaluation and have gained some insights into how to help others learn the process.

Hot Tip: one of the most recent revelations in teaching about youth participatory evaluation is helping create an environment that assists students to learn the process. Two areas seem important. First, youth need a course/reflective system so they can continuously get examples and feedback on the process. Since each context is often different, it is important to help them share their plans and bounce ideas off of more experienced individuals. This assistance provides critiques/comments on the process and gives on-the-spot examples that model useful techniques. I recently had students who were helping to evaluate a program where college students were mentoring middle school students. They decided they wanted to use focus groups to get a better idea of what the college students thought were important program elements to help their mentees. This interest required reading and practicing the focus group process. We modeled a focus group in class and had them walk through the plans. They ended up actually conducting a few focus groups with their college peers and then introduced two additional students to the process….to empower the group so they could continue during the next year. While certainly not expert in the focus group process they did “learn by doing” well enough be think critically about how to create a system that included focus group evaluation as a regular part of their college program.

Rad Resources: A few readings were very helpful. They read and used Elizabeth Whitmore’s Understanding and Practicing Participatory Evaluation (1998) to help frame their work. They also used Richard Krueger’s Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research to begin their journey on the focus group process. Materials on youth-led evaluation, such as references from Youth in Focus (Youth REP: Step By Step (2002) were helpful. Lastly, they even used my booklet, Youth Led Evaluation (Clemson University, 2007), to help frame some of their approaches to the evaluation process.

Hot Tip: People learn to do youth led evaluation by doing it. But ensuring there are sufficient reading and practice resources to support their effort is critical to helping them develop more expert knowledge and skills. Evaluation becomes the service rendered in service-learning!

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