AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



YFE Week: Mary Arnold on Getting Youth Participatory Evaluation Projects off to a Solid Start

Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Arnold, a professor and youth development specialist at Oregon State University.

We are not lacking great ideas for how to involve youth in program evaluation, but we often struggle with how to actually making it happen! Here are a few starter tips for ensuring success in involving youth in participatory evaluations. Look for more tips from me in an upcoming AEA365 post.

Hot Tips:

  • Make it Fun!!!! And keep in mind that what is fun for adults may not be fun for youth. Teens love opportunities to socialize, be creative and laugh together. They can also be unsure in unfamiliar situations, so don’t underestimate the time it takes to get everyone warmed up and comfortable. I always begin projects with you with some fun and interactive icebreakers that get everyone up and engaging with each other. Even better, ask some youth to help you lead icebreakers.
  • Establish Solid Youth Adult Partnerships (Y-APS). Youth have a lot to bring to the table in participatory evaluation projects, but they can’t do it alone. Without proper adult support, youth-led evaluations will not succeed. However, they will also be unsuccessful if adults are too heavy-handed, and view themselves as “in –charge.” Striking the perfect balance of power and partnership between youth and adults can be difficult to do, but not impossible. The key is to provide training for the youth and adult partners. There are several curricula available to help with this. Reflect and Improve: A Toolkit for Engaging Youth and Adults as Partners in Program Evaluation, developed by the Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development is a particularly good resource for creating strong Y-APS for evaluation.
  • Engage Youth Deeply Participatory evaluation is about empowerment. When we engage youth in evaluation we are inviting them to question, analyze, and respond to issues that matter to them. Inherent in this process is the invitation for youth to think critically about issues that impact their lives. When I work with youth I teach them to think about the causal roots of problems, as well as the contextual influences that make the problems unique to their lives. When I first started doing this I worried that I would lose their interest because I was asking so much of them intellectually. When I saw the glazed looks I worried it felt too much like school. But I waited. And before long, youth started responded to my probing in thoughtful and provocative ways. Then pencils came out, and notes were taken, heads nodded, and new awareness took form. I have learned not to be afraid to present some challenging content and allow time for it to simmer.

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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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