YFE TIG Week: Sara Plachta Elliott and Alicia McCormick on Youth-Led Quality Improvement

We are Sara Plachta Elliott, executive director of the Youth Development Resource Center in Detroit, and Alicia McCormick, youth development director at Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, a community development organization in Detroit that provides a variety of youth programs. We collaborate to improve youth program quality, making the improvement process more youth-led along the way.

Many youth programs use the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA), or other program quality assessments. YDRC runs the Youth Program Quality Intervention for youth programs in Detroit. We believe the quality improvement process is even more powerful when organizations like UNI engage youth and empower them to lead a quality improvement process for the programs they are involved in.

This summer, UNI deepened youth engagement in the evaluation process by having youth design their own program quality observation tool to compliment the organization’s use of the YPQA. UNI hired a team of 3 high-school aged youth, guided by a young adult intern, through the city’s summer youth employment program. YDRC partnered with UNI to give a day of training to the team on youth-led evaluation, and then the youth team spent the summer designing their own program observation tool and testing it with UNI’s youth programs. The youth used the results to give recommendations to the organization for future program improvements. The youth are now serving as part of the board’s Youth Development Committee, further deepening their leadership and influence within the organization.

Hot Tips:

  • Prepare the adults. An organization’s leaders need to create structures that allow for deeper youth participation. Inviting youth to join UNI’s Youth Development Committee was a structural change that allowed for more impactful youth participation.
  • Give youth agency. While the adults asked the youth to focus on program quality for one aspect of the project, the youth team also selected their own research focus which was “Why Youth?” They choose to produce a video and this increased their engagement in the evaluation work.
  • Pay youth for their work. In the case of UNI, paying youth through summer youth employment was critical for meaningful work and engagement. Adults get paid for their work on evaluation, and youth should too.

Rad Resources:

  • The Youth Engaged in Leadership and Learning curriculum from the John W. Gardner Center provides a lot of activities and meeting agendas to support youth-led research.
  • The Weikert Center for Youth Program Quality’s Youth Program Quality Assessment is a widely used quality improvement assessment tool. Their aligned Youth Work Methods trainings, such as Youth Voice, help build a foundation of readiness.
  • The Neutral Zone’s Youth Driven Spaces initiative provides a variety of resources for increasing youth-driven work, including a TAC Guidebook, a Youth-Adult Partnership Rubric, and an Agency Self-Readiness and Capacity Assessment.

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.

1 thought on “YFE TIG Week: Sara Plachta Elliott and Alicia McCormick on Youth-Led Quality Improvement”

  1. Hello Sara,
    This is amazing work. It is so important that the youth feels heard and understood. We can’t expect others to understand or solve the problems of a group they can’t relate to. So that the youth were able to plan out and discuss things engaging them in how to make a difference is great!

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