YFE TIG Week: Toyin Owolabi and Susan Igras on Challenges and Game-Based Solutions to Data Collection with Very Young Adolescents

Greetings from Toyin Owolabi at the Women’s Health Action Research Center (WHARC) in Nigeria and Susan Igras at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH). Last year, we joined together on a cross-country project to build capacity in designing and evaluating programs for younger adolescents.

Younger adolescent programming and related program evaluation is nascent in the international arena. Nigeria is a leader in Africa in adolescent health programming and research but, like many countries, has not yet focused much on the developmental needs and concerns of 10-14 year olds, who are often lumped into all-adolescent program efforts. Younger adolescents’ cognitive skills are still developing and traditional focus group discussions and interviews do not work well. Games and activity-based data collection techniques can work much better in eliciting attitudes, ideas and opinions.

Going beyond knowledge to assessing more intangible program outcomes such as gender role shifts, IRH has been using participatory methodologies drawn from rapid rural appraisal, advertising, and other disciplines, and adapting them for evaluation.

Staff from WHARC, a well-respected research and advocacy organization, were oriented to and used many of these methodologies for a first-time-ever needs assessment with younger adolescents in Ibo State. The assessment provided data to advocate for age-segmented program approaches for adolescents and inform program design. Some of the things we learned:


Make data collection periods brief for short attention spans. Build in recess periods (and snacks!) if data collection takes longer than 20-30 minutes.

Challenge your comfort level in survey development. Standard adolescent questions may not apply. Younger adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health issues generally revolve around puberty, self-efficacy, emerging fertility, gender formation, and body image, and NOT pregnancy and HIV prevention.

Youth engagement is important, and older adolescents may contribute better to evaluation design. Having recent recall of the puberty years, they also bring more abstract reasoning skills than younger adolescents.


“Smile like you did when you were 13 years old!” This opened one of our meeting sessions and startled quite a few participants. It is really important to help adults get into the ‘younger adolescent zone’ before beginning to think about evaluation.


This article by Rebecka Lundgren and colleagues provides a nicely-described, mixed method evaluation of a gender equity program (2013): Whose turn to do the dishes? Transforming gender attitudes and behaviours among very young adolescents in Nepal.

The Population Council is revising its seminal 2006 publication, Investing when it counts: Generating the evidence base for policies and programmes for very young adolescents. A guide and toolkit. Available in late 2015, it contains evaluation/research tool kit references available from various disciplines.

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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