YFE Week: Jessica Jerney on Coaching Youth Workers in Evaluation

Hello, this is Jessica Jerney from the Extension Center for Youth Development at the University of Minnesota. I recently served as Project Coordinator for the Innovations on Youth Roles in Evaluation and Assessment project. This initiative included a learning cohort, symposia speakers’ series (featuring Kim Sabo Flores and Katie Richards-Schuster), and applied research.

As a result of this project, we gained new insights into the benefits and challenges of using a cohort model for professional development in youth-focused evaluation. Over nine months, 25 youth program practitioners met and engaged in dialogue, activities, and reflection to explore, test, and create new aspirations for engaging youth in evaluation.

Hot Tips for Engaging Adult Practitioners in Evaluation with Youth

Tackling the task of building youth worker capacity in youth-focused evaluation was a bigger challenge than originally imagined.  If you are considering implementing a learning cohort, consider the following Hot Tips for engaging adults in evaluation with youth:

  • Create a safe space for participants to grow and ideas to flourish. I often say that evaluation can be like therapy for participants. Involvement in qualitative evaluations has created new realizations for many, so did membership in the Innovators Learning Cohort.  We did not expect that the experience would challenge adult practitioner ideas about the roles of young people in evaluation. As Mariah Kornbluh pointed out, we need to be prepared to “address adultism and be an ally.” When engaging a cohort in a potentially controversial issue, allow space for learning, change, and surprises. Be ready to help participants peel back the unconscious ideas that our society has about youth roles in activities, like evaluation, and practice authentic youth-adult partnerships.
  • Establish an on-going group dedicated to learning and growing their practice. We created an application process to identify candidates that had the time, interest, and skills to participate at a high level.
  • Develop skills and share experiences. Adult learning theory tells us that grown-ups want to share their experiences and learn from others. Introduce activities that are challenging and hands-on. We found that it was important to participants to be pushed outside of their comfort zone in both theoretical and practical ways. In some instances, cohort members tried out new skills and ideas in their program and shared the results with the group. In other instances, local youth leaders participated in activities with the cohort and reflected on the experience the next day. These opportunities to develop working theories, test them out, and reflect were critical for growth and change to occur in the space in which they operate.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) 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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