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

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, https://www.youthpower.org/youth-engagement-guide).  

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 publicationhttps://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/7768/pdf/children_participation_in_programming_cycle.pdf

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. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098214019832113 

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: http://www.yetoolkit.ca/content/monitor-and-co-evaluate and http://www.troussemj.ca/content/suivi-et-%C3%A9valuation 

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: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3Lg0_hmnMebQqRLKavF6_A

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.

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

  1. I am very interested in the work Susan Igras is doing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and this message is primarily addressed to her.

    I also read your article, “Susan Igras on Engaging Youth in Program Evaluation When Research is the Main Objective” from 2016.

    I am very pleased to learn about your collaborative work done with the Congolese, especially with Congolese youth. I worked for ORPER (Œuvre de Reclassement et Protection des Enfants de la Rue) in Kinshasa from 1991 to 1993. Several of my former coworkers now work for REEJER (Réseau des Educateurs des Enfants et Jeunes de la Rue) in Kinshasa. You may or may not have had contact with these organizations.

    What I noticed during my time in Kinshasa was that a colonial mindset was still quite prevalent. Breaking from that mindset was very helpful in delivering effective programming to the street children of Kinshasa. To be honest, even after decades of working as an educator in North America, I still consider my Congolese colleagues as some of the finest educators I have ever known. I learned a great deal from them. What I read in your documents is an effort to understand what is needed in the Congo from a Congolese perspective and help to develop programs accordingly.

    As I read this article on Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE), I was reminded of the impact of another group of youth in the early 1980s called Bilengi ya Mwinda (please forgive any mistakes in my Lingala, but it means “Children of the Light”). The Belgian in charge of this group began ORPER at their insistence. They were quite concerned about the number of children sleeping on the streets and they wanted to do something. Several of these youth are now adults working for ORPER and REEJER. Though he passed away in 2001, I understand that the Congolese continue to hold the Belgian, Père Frank, in very high regard.

    I would like to know more about your research in the DRC, particularly in Kinshasa. Where can I find this information? Are you familiar with the work of ORPER and REEJER? If not, would their work be useful to your further research?

    I would also like to thank you for your work in the DRC. When I was there, I often felt we often had to make decisions based on instinct. I am grateful that my Congolese coworkers had good instincts and a good understanding of their culture. Most westerners seemed to have little desire to learn from the Congolese and that was to everyone’s detriment. I am so happy to learn that this trend has shifted and that there is now accurate data to use in finding the best way forward for development work in the DRC.

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