ToE TIG Week: Amplifying Youth Voice through Focus Group Instruction by Hilary Loeb

My name is Hilary Loeb, and I work for the Strategy, Evaluation and Learning Department for the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD).  I have been engaged in teaching evaluation to a range of interns in high school, college, and graduate school for over ten years in public and nonprofit organizations.  I thoroughly enjoy involving youth in all facets of data collection and analysis and am pleased to share how we taught our interns about moderating focus groups.  I co-designed and facilitated this training with my colleague, Cassandra O’Francia who managed the youth intern program, Leaders in Training or (LIT).  I enjoyed teaching this lesson because the youth participants developed ideas about focus group topics and questions, later applying this knowledge in their own internships.  I also liked the ease of using a short, simulated focus group to help our youth interns understand the value of gathering qualitative data in a group.

Our agency annually hosts 10-20 youth interns through LIT. The goal of LIT is to incorporate youth voice into PSESD’s work while providing high school students with a meaningful paid internship opportunity.  We believe that inviting student interns into our work is necessary to becoming an Antiracist Multicultural Organization. 

LIT hosted a number of skill-building sessions throughout the summer in order to both build community and share tools for students that can be helpful in their individual internships.  This training had the objectives of (1) familiarizing youth with the purpose of focus groups and (2) providing opportunities to plan their own focus group.  Participants first read a user-friendly short article and observed a quick fishbowl activity with audience volunteers to discuss how to improve the skill-building sessions, a topic that was personally relevant.  They then worked in small groups to develop their own focus group that they could conduct in their internships, and we debriefed as a whole group by sharing how they would apply the lessons from the focus group session.  I have shared a version of the training materials in this folder that include our training slides, reading activity, and handout for participants.

Cool Trick:

Both Microsoft Teams and Zoom offer simultaneous transcription which can provide a draft of meeting notes.  I am not the world’s quickest typist, so I watch the focus group at 66% time in order to review the transcription and clean up the notes.

Lesson Learned:

Teaching youth prompts me to ensure that the purpose and steps are concrete and that there are opportunities to practice.  This lesson prompted me to think about the relevance of focus groups as a way to engage in collaborative problem-solving.  In the case of this lesson, we were able to demonstrate how asking and answering questions in a focus group could help us improve our supports in the youth internship program.

Rad Resources:

Our team has used the Stanford Gardner Center Youth Engaged in Leadership and Learning handbook to facilitate a number of exercises about research and evaluation.  I have also really appreciated the wisdom in Roger Hart’s (1992) Ladder of Participation, a metaphor that is “a beginning typology for thinking about children’s participation in projects” (see pp. 8-9).


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Teaching of Evaluation TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the ToE Topical Interest Group. 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@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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