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Extension > Youth Development Insight > October 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Youth as partners in evaluation -- an idea that is catching on

Kate-Walker.jpgThe American Evaluation Association (AEA) is holding its annual meeting in Minneapolis this week. AEA's new Youth Focused Evaluation Topical Interest Group (YFE TIG) launches with an impressive series of sessions devoted to evaluation about youth, for youth and with youth. It is exciting to see all the evaluation and research that is being done in partnership with young people. For me, these sessions underscore the potential benefits and barriers to engaging youth in evaluation.

As with other forms of participatory and action research, including youth in the process can:
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  1. Enhance the inquiry. Young people provide an important and legitimizing perspective on the programs that serve them, and their involvement can contribute to more valid and reliable findings.
  2. Empower participants. When youth are involved as collective decision makers and change agents in the inquiry process, they can gain important skills and competencies.
  3. Contribute to society. By recognizing youth expertise and equalizing power relationships, young people can help democratize knowledge and transform institutions to be more accountable to their communities.

When done poorly, however, youth-involved research and evaluation can be counterproductive. Potential barriers include:
  1. Tokenism or exclusivity can result when youth participation is limited to a select few.
  2. Organizational and community readiness are often the biggest obstacles.
  3. Adequate training and support is critical for both youth and adults.
On Mon., Oct. 29, Dr. Kim Sabo Flores will present "Transforming Youth - Adult Relationships through Research and Evaluation". While this event is full, a recording of it will be posted on our website.

In your experience, what have been the key benefits and barriers to partnering with young people in evaluation and research efforts?

-- Kate Walker, research associate

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Top 10 ways to engage diverse communities

Josey-Landrieu.jpgWhat does it take to build relationships with diverse audiences? I have thought a lot about this question in my work with University of Minnesota Extension.

One of the things I enjoy the most about my work is the chance to act as bridge between my university and communities across our state. Often, immigrants and minorities haven't had the opportunity to engage and participate in what Extension has to offer. Engaging them is different than what happens when working with communities who have had long-lasting, positive relationships with us.

Extension work extends beyond our program participants; it permeates  individuals' lives, families, organizations, and entire communities. In the social environments in which we do our work, including demographic changes and economic turmoil, it is crucial that we establish, maintain and nurture positive relationships with diverse communities. Along with some of my colleagues across Extension, we put together a "Top 10 List" for engaging diverse audiences.

  1. It takes time. You will need time before, during, and after your "project" to build the relationship and maintain it. Organizations and people in these communities need to be at the table from the beginning to foster positive, long-lasting working relationships.
  2. You are never done! At the end of a workshop, participants may connect with you about community resources or a personal matter. Be ready with culturally appropriate materials, translated into appropriate languages if needed.
  3. Understand that in certain cultures is an offense to disagree with you.
  4. Don't take things personally. It is not about you! Others may have urgent issues than than you realize. Community members will let you know what issues should be addressed and how you can work with them to address them in a positive and constructive way. They are tired of being seen from a deficit model approach; they know they have assets, they bring skills and knowledge to the table and our work should include them.
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  5. Have a spirit of exploration! Approach diverse audiences with a willingness to learn. It's OK to ask questions, and it is OK to listen. The more you work across difference, the more comfortable you will become, and you will get a better sense of the community's "Way of Knowing.">
  6. Relationship ethic is more important than work ethic! Don't come to meetings with an agenda--you'll be disappointed. You might have to collect data at a fiesta!
  7. Never take words, concepts, or objectives at face value ... these things are loaded with multiple meanings. Words such as success, resource or poverty (and many others) have multiple meanings. Make a genuine effort to know and appreciate different ways of understanding the world.
  8. Be where it happens. Engaging with communities requires flexibility. A comfortable place for them to meet might not be the same as yours.
  9. Develop a cross-cultural capacity. You will need intercultural skills -- communication, maybe a language, experience working cross-culturally, key contacts in the community. Get some training, experience differences to get out of your comfort zone. Use resources (trainings, co-workers, events, literature, art, etc.) to build these skills that you will have to put into practice.
  10. Ask yourself "what is my commitment level?" If you intend to be in and out of a community quickly, it might be best to ask someone who has an existing relationship with the community if they would be willing to partner with you on the project.

I am not the first in the country to consider the question of how university-community collaborations work best. Nor am I the first in Minnesota Extension to think about it. But this is our latest take.

What would you add to our list? Can we make it a "Top 15?" What has worked when you engage diverse communities in your work? What are some lessons learned you would like to share with others? Chime in!

-- Josey Landrieu, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech - any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Youth programs designed for those who need them most

Joanna-Tzenis.jpgDid you know that time spent in youth programs is the most consistent predictor of youth thriving? Participation in them can enhance young people's self-esteem, school performance and civic responsibility. But which youth benefit the most?

While all youth can and do benefit from youth programs, they are disproportionately valuable to the welfare of low-income or marginalized youth. Those who have fewer resources -- financial, cultural, and social -- benefit disproportionately more from programs than youth who have plenty. Ironically, there is a severe shortage of youth programs designed for at-risk youth.

This is an urgent issue that the Minnesota Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) team has gone a along way to addressing. The Minnesota CYFAR Sustainable Communities Project is entering its fifth year of operation. Since its launch, we have used the organic middle school model designed specifically for youth and their families at risk. It is not a highly structured program model in the sense that we have a prescribed curriculum, content or activities. Rather, the content emerges from the interests and talents of the youth, family and their community -- keeping program staff on their toes as they continually design a learning environment that sparks those interests and draws out those talents.

Our evaluation findings confirm that the organic nature of the model is essential to successful programming. Each site keeps youth's interests at the center of learning, and so each has a different focus. At the Willmar site, youth love the opportunity "express their nerdiness" in science. In Winona, they escape "living in a text book" and "actually touch stuff." In St. Paul, young people relish the rare urban opportunity to connect with nature in the context of their Ojibwe and Lakota cultures. Because their interests are at the core of programming, across all sites, young people are having fun while learning and motivated to explore their educational interests. This is particularly important for young people whose knowledge or ways of knowing are often marginalized in other settings.

In your experience, what are indispensable elements of youth programs for young people who are at risk for not meeting their basic needs? What can we do as professionals in the field of youth development to advance the development for this type of programming?

-- Joanna Tzenis, assistant Extension professor, Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR)


You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
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