The Power of Youth Voice in Data Conversations by Stephanie Mui

Hello!  My name is Stephanie Mui, and I am a Senior Program Analyst at Good Shepherd Services, evaluating afterschool programs serving elementary and middle school participants.  One of my favorite parts of my job is involving afterschool youth council participants in the program performance management cycle, which has served to enrich and expand the impact of our afterschool programs.  While youth council participants are involved in each part of the evaluation cycle, I would like to focus on their involvement in helping program leadership learn from the data collected. 

Once the program data is collected, we learn by analyzing that data and reviewing the results with our youth participants. This data includes participant experience surveys, attendance data, and program observations reports.  Once the results are available, we host a Youth Council Forum in order to discuss the data.  The day begins with teaching the participants how to read and understand the results.  The youth council participants then participate in several in-depth discussions with their peers and their program staff including:

  • Examining the results from their program to identify areas of strength and areas of concern. 
  • Making recommendations to their program leadership for action steps to help program improve identified areas of concern.
  • Planning presentations to share the results and proposed actions steps with the rest of the afterschool participants in the programs they represent.  Often the youth will create their own charts to help explain the data to the younger peers.  These presentations also include discussions seeking feedback on their proposed action steps. 

Lesson Learned: The biggest lesson I’ve learned from incorporating youth into the evaluation cycle is that they have powerful insights that go far beyond the data we receive from the participant experience surveys. For example, the surveys ask participants to identify favorite and least liked activities.  When discussing the results, youth council participants provide additional context to what is and isn’t working about those activities.

Lesson Learned: Another big lesson learned is that youth will rise to the occasion. When discussing their data, the youth often discuss not only what the program needs to change but also what they need to change.  Youth see themselves as stakeholders and hold themselves accountable to program performance too.

Hot Tip:  Create a simplified version of the data reports in order to help youth understand what they are looking at but try to let them see as much of the data as is relevant to them. 

Rad Resources: One resource that has helped me in planning data discussions with youth has been “Dabbling in the Data: A Hands-On Guide to Participatory Data Analysis” by Public Profit.  This guide includes several activities to help people become more familiar with data analysis and many of the activities are great for youth populations. 

For more information about how Good Shepherd Services involves Youth Councils in the Performance Management Cycle process, feel free to download our poster submitted to the 2020 Annual AEA Virtual Conference.

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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

5 thoughts on “The Power of Youth Voice in Data Conversations by Stephanie Mui”

  1. Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you for such a great post. I am currently enrolled in an M. Ed. program and I am working on a program evaluation design for an after school youth program that runs at the school that I teach in. I found this blog post to be particularly helpful and motivating. While I had included surveys of participants in my list of data collection methods as a means of including youth voice, I had not considered the concept of a youth counsel to help with the actual data analysis and interpretation of the results. I agree with your points about the participants bringing valuable context and an additional lens to the table.

    The “define/measure/learn/improve” cycle of program evaluation shared on the attached poster is quite useful. I have bookmarked the link to refer to in the future. It is clearly defined and I appreciate how you have outlined the role of the youth council at each stage. I can definitely see myself implementing a similar system in the future.

    Thank you for linking the “Dabbling in the Data” guide. This will be useful for me not only in my current program evaluation project but also in my work as an elementary school teacher as well. So many of the activities can be worked into the math, science, social studies, and health curriculums.

    A couple of questions for you:
    1. How do you determine which youth will join the youth council? Are they volunteers or are they selected by program organizers? If they are selected what criteria is used?
    2. What do you find are the biggest challenges when working with the youth council? What workarounds have you created to overcome these challenges?

    Thanks again for such an informative and inspiring blog post!

  2. Post: “The Power of Youth Voice in Data Conversations”
    By Stephanie Mui – Senior Program Analyst at Good Shepherd Services (afterschool programs)

    Hi Stephanie,

    My name is Sean Rudy and I’m a Health & Physical Education Teacher, Program Director for First Assist (a non-profit where we provide sports programs to enhance attendance and student well-being to Indigenous students across Canada), and a part-time student at Queen’s University School of Graduate Studies (completing a Professional Masters of Education with a focus on Educational Administration).

    Your post regarding the inclusion of youth in data discussions resonated with me because of the work I’m involved with. I’m currently completing a program evaluation design for First Assist and it never occurred to me that including the youth in data talk could be so beneficial. I appreciate the resource “Dabbling in the Data: A Hands-On Guide to Participatory Data Analysis” that you shared. I’m a novice in my program evaluation experience (despite running hockey and fitness programs for youth for many years). It’s clear to me that utilizing data to support continuous quality improvement within programs is necessary. Still, there aren’t many resources (to my knowledge) that enable stakeholders/evaluators to do so – so thank you for your post.

    The key takeaways I thought of were:
    Having youth participate in the data convo will enrich and expand the impact of programs
    Taking the time to teach youth how to read and understand results will lead to strengthening areas of concern
    This process enables youth participants to be able to breakdown the data into more straightforward explanations, which they then can share with younger participants
    Youth can provide additional specific context to what is and isn’t working (as shown in your example of least favourite activities)
    Youth are capable of rising to the occasion and are stakeholders in the program, thus holding themselves accountable to program performance

    Thanks again for your post, and if you have any similar resources for involving youth in program evaluations, I’d be more than happy to explore them!

    Best regards,

    Sean Rudy
    Wabannuato Eeyou School
    Queen’s University: PME Student

  3. Wow, this is a great tool! Very informative and powerful! I think it is a great idea to seek input from the youth participating in the programs being evaluated and I believe this is a great catalyst to future research. I am curious as to how the members of the youth council are gathered and what criteria is used to establish coherent and valuable feedback from these members. As we know, children are still maturing and cannot understand all that goes in to ensuring program success and overcoming life obstacles. There are just some things children need time to understand as they go through life and grow through higher learning. At what age would this type of practice be practical and what reward system is provided to those in the youth council? I might look into this further because I have an interest in this field! Thank you for your information.

  4. Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you for your post, it really resonates with me. I am a dance teacher for a musical theatre degree program and have been in discussion with the faculty about changing our approach to teaching dance to make it more equitable for all the students (all of them are not trained dancers). A large part of my thinking has been involving the students in the collaborative and evaluation process as more than just data so that they are empowered and have more autonomy over their learning. As you rightly pointed out, they are stakeholders in their our education and I believe they should have more input in how they learn. This obviously is more manageable for adult learners in post-secondary institutions, but I agree that this sense of ownership is present and should be developed from a young age.

  5. Hey Stephanie,

    Thank you for the clear/concise post regarding incorporating youth in data conversations. The big takeaway from me about your article is when you make the statement “You will rise to the occasion.” I feel this should be a meme or plastered all over school walls as a reminder of the power our youth provide to us with their perspective on things. Teaching about data allows them to provide a unique experience that goes deeper than a survey on a piece of paper. Showing the youth group how to interpret the data I feel was extremely important. This seems like it would be a best practice for many evaluators to do with adults. I am an elementary vice-principal and at a recent parent council meeting some information was shared about air quality readings in our classroom. Parents saw colours and numbers and began to draw dire conclusions regarding the state of our school, only to realize after explanation that there was nothing to be concerned about. When our board rep. asked what we thought might have saved us some time that evening, I offered the idea to explain to the parents how the data they were reading was constructed and what to look for.
    This was a great post to read as I love when respect and opportunities to learn from our youth are given to us. We need to remember this as adults.

    Thank you!

    Mark Keeping

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