YFE Week: Amy Campbell on Using Youth Participatory Action Research to Inform Program Design

I’m Amy Campbell, an evaluator at Centerstone Research Institute in Nashville, TN. While I work on several evaluation projects, one of the most rewarding is the Tennessee Healthy Transitions Initiative, where I’m able to work closely with youth and young adults (Y/YA) who have or are at risk of developing mental health or co-occurring disorders.

This year, we had an opportunity to conduct a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project with a Healthy Transitions Young Adult Leadership Council for the purposes of generating information to inform the services offered to Y/YA in Chattanooga, TN. We were able to engage Y/YA, train them in research methods, and collaboratively develop and implement a research project. Members of our YPAR team presented at Evaluation 2016 and shared how their findings will impact the design of the Tennessee Healthy Transitions Initiative.

Moving forward, this YPAR team will be meeting with Healthy Transitions leaders at the local and state levels to share their findings and collaboratively develop program solutions based on the data. Their findings will also influence the Leadership Council’s actions in the future; they are discussing social media campaigns focusing on issues they identified and other data-informed projects.

Lessons Learned:

  • Stakeholder buy-in is crucial. If you think you might not have this buy-in, you should start by having discussions that try to address this.
  • Y/YA need adequate support and training to be able to effectively engage. Share the expectations you have for your research team early (e.g., commitment, deliverables, etc.), and provide a solid foundation of the basic tenets of research in your first trainings. Use every interaction with your team as an opportunity to teach them about good research design and processes.

Hot Tips:

  • Free food is one of the best recruitment and retention tools you have at your disposal. We fed our team at every meeting, and we offered food for our data collection “event.”
  • Utilize social media and technology! I am located about 150 miles away from our research team, so we had to find creative ways to stay in contact. We used Facebook Messenger to stay connected between meetings, Evernote to keep track of meeting notes and action items, and Google Hangouts to meet remotely when we couldn’t meet in person.

Rad Resources:

The University of California, Berkeley’s YPAR Hub is a great resource for training and preparation exercises for your YPAR teams.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE AEA 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. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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