YFE TIG Week: Lessons from Youth Focused Evaluation at a Distance by Rebekah Davis

I am Dr. Rebekah Davis, a research associate at the Friday Institute (FI) for Educational Innovation. I was a teacher in public schools in North Carolina for almost twenty years before becoming a full-time member of the Program Evaluation and Education Research (PEER) group at the FI in 2021. I love that I have been able to continue serving teachers and students in our state through my work, which typically focuses on digital innovation and equity for teaching and learning.

During the pandemic, when most meetings were held at a distance, many of the findings for one of my youth-oriented projects (still) revolved around ACTIVITY. To engage youth in the science of climate resilience, leaders provided them with opportunities to actively do, think and discover. Those experiential learning activities triggered youth perception, cognition, and behaviors with the hopes that future behaviors would be influenced as well. Even though the majority of the program was not held physically face-to-face, the activities in the virtual spaces created an environment where learners could communicate, engage, and react to each other. The activities constantly encouraged bodily movement, engaged minds, and creating connections. 

This suggests that when implementing program evaluation with youth (especially at a distance), keeping things ACTIVE should be a focus. While delivering some initial information requires “sit and get,” those instances must be balanced with intentional design elements that keep the body, mind, and connections active among participants. When a group gathers through technology, the experience mediated through a screen induces passivity. Speakers are easily ignored, and without the immediacy of gathered individuals there is little psychological pressure to participate in discussions.

Hot Tips

To help with that, here are some ideas for youth “activation”:

Active BODY  

Prompt youth to move before (priming), during (places and spaces), between and after (breaks). For example, have music playing and encourage them to tap, hum, or dance (with camera on or off) while they wait. If they need to listen to something, you could encourage them to take a walk while they listen – many will be joining you by phone. Remind them to get up and stretch from time to time.

Active MIND

Keep the mind active by designing puzzles, problem solving, and give and take into what you do. For example, make the steps to complete a form progressive. Give them active choices for ways to provide feedback. Give creative options like selecting or creating art or music to represent their feelings.


Think about ways to build in social time – even if just by offering a chat option. If you want to encourage them to use a chat, think of prompts or questions to put in the chat from time to time. When you put youth into small groups, give them a purpose to help them connect. Some won’t know what to say otherwise. Offer them your contact information with specific times you are available whenever possible.

CONVENIENCE and IMMEDIACY are needed for maximum participation.

Make your surveys and feedback forms compatible with mobile devices, as many will access them on their phones. If you are on site, provide tablets or laptops in the room where you are meeting that will allow better entry of open-ended answers (than on phones). Make sure you build time into the schedule to complete the instrument at the end of your session. This increases the likelihood that they will turn them in. The completion rates of evaluation surveys will be higher when participants are given links as they exit a session (rather than sending out links later). 

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our YFE TIG members. 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. 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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.