YFE TIG Week: Moving beyond the ‘Whys’ and ‘Whats’ of adolescent-led evaluation to practical ‘Hows’ by Susan Igras and Ousséni Kinda

This post was original released on AEA365 in 2021, and was so popular the first time around, it is being reshared from the archives at the request of the Youth Focused Evaluation TIG.

Greetings. We’re Susan Igras (Senior Technical Advisor at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health and occasional Consultant) and Ousséni Kinda (Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council in Nigeria). These past few years, we have teamed up to promote youth-led participatory evaluation in West and Central Africa, drawing from our own experiences supporting youth-led evaluation (YLE). Today, we wanted to share three practical ‘how’s focused on the soft skills needed by teen evaluators and supporting adults.  

Hot Tip: Mindsets before skillsets.

Before evaluations begin, ensure program managers and evaluation teams have meaningful youth engagement (MYE) mindsets, which allow a “mutually respectful partnership between youth and adults whereby power is shared, respective contributions are valued, and young people’s ideas, perspectives, skills and strengths are integrated into… programs… that affect their lives and their communities… (YouthPower).  

How can evaluations achieve MYE? We often start orientation sessions by asking project managers and the youth-adult evaluation teams this question, ‘From design to dissemination, what steps of an evaluation can young people be engaged in?’ and link this discussion with a participation checklist.

Hot tip:  Many child-serving organizations have focused on defining participation operationally.  See a fine child participation check list on page 15 of Save the Children’s publication.

Hot Tip: Mitigating ‘adultism’ during data collection.  

During training, use case studies to prepare teens to manage ‘power-over’ situations where adult respondents don’t believe adolescents can evaluate, or should be interviewing adults, or should be doing participatory exercises.  The evaluation in question used an adaptation of the Most Significant Change methodology that involves adolescent and parent participants drawing a flower and discussing, petal by petal (each petal representing a different domain such as self, family, neighborhood, services), their most significant changes due to the program. Here’s one case study that we used to provoke peer discussion on how to handle challenging situations that might arise when collecting information from adults, drawing from the team’s own life experiences:

Mbadu is 14 years old and an evaluator of the Growing Up GREAT! project. He is assigned to facilitate the Growing Up GREAT! flower exercise with Mr Martin and four other parents. But he quickly realizes that Mr Martin is not very comfortable with the activity. He doesn’t want to be interviewed by someone younger than him. What would you do if you were in Mbadu’s shoes?

Hot Tip: Keeping adolescent evaluators safe

Beyond more controlled settings such as schools and clubs, be practical about ensuring personal safety. Build safety checks into protocols such as supervisor phone-ins after teens complete each respondent interview. We’ve teamed Evaluation Mentors with Adolescent Evaluators; an older youth who observes data collection at a distance can intervene if needed and also give technical feedback and encouragement to younger evaluators. And don’t forget travel insurance!

Rad Resources

See a framework for those getting started in youth-led participatory evaluation by Katie Richards-Schuster and Sara Plachta Elliott. Practice Matrix for Involving Young People in Evaluation: Possibilities and Considerations.

An example of a YFE training module (in English and French) can be found within a 2016 online toolkit: Walking the talk: A toolkit for engaging youth in mental health.

See our 2021 webinar Engaging youth and children in evaluation: Taking stock and looking ahead with the Nova Scotia Chapter of the Canadian Evaluation Society here.

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.

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