My name is Somongkol Teng, Extension Educator for Evaluation at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development. Recently, I conducted an evaluation using focus groups with our 4-H Online Adventure Program, a collaborative, project-based learning program for Minnesota 4-Hers, ages 10 to 12. While many evaluators are familiar with focus groups with adults, conducting one with youth requires careful considerations and preparation.
Below are lessons learned and hot tips:
- Pick the right facilitator. A good facilitator with adults might not be as good with youth. In our case, we had a colleague who had starred in our training videos facilitate the sessions. He was selected because he was not too involved in the program, but was recognizable by the youth.
- Be attentive to the age range. Keep the age range no more than two years. Different age groups behave differently and require different strategies.
- Keep the group small. Unlike focus groups with adults, we found conversation was easier and richer with a smaller group of youth, usually around 5-6.
- Group youth participants thoughtfully. Find out in advance about the youth’s group dynamic and try to separate close friends. This strategy helped ensure a wider range of comments.
- Start with fun icebreaking activities. Invest 10-15 minutes for some fun ice-breaking topics about celebrities, video games, etc. to get the conversation started.
- Ask age-appropriate questions. Remember that youth will have fewer life experiences to draw from compared to adults. When developing questions, keep sentence structures simple, avoid yes/no questions, and be aware of questions that potentially threaten the freedom and independence of young people (e.g. if interested in knowing how decisions were made about their 4-H project selection, try not to stress on “who” made the decision since few youth liked to admit before their peers that their parents decided for them).
- Use interactive and participatory activities. Including technology or drawing kept the session lively and fun. We embedded a live online polling using UMU, a free online platform for engaging learning experience, into one of our activities.
- Keep the session short. We found it effective to keep the focus groups to one-hour sessions using a short set of 6 to 8 questions.
- Provide food. Food is the key to the heart. Find out what the youth like. Do not underestimate the power of food to keep them engaged.
- Get consents. This is critical! Determine what the appropriate protocol might be to get parental or guardian consent. That said, it is equally important to get youth’s assent to participate in the focus group. Communicate why their participation matters.
- Be flexible. Things are bound to not go as planned. Have fun, and go with the flow.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.