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

By Kate Walker

The 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:
  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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  1. I appreciate the timeliness of this topic, Kate. After spending a couple of days earlier this week in small group discussions tied to Kim Sabo Flores' presentation I was struck by the conversation between good youth work and youth participatory evaluation. It seems that as we seek to improve youth program quality that ype becomes a necessary part of what we do more than just "nice." The challenge is "now what" - a question that the Innovators group will be able to wrestle with over the next few months.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Becky. I totally agree -- If we are committed to the tenets of youth development, how can we not engage youth in authentic leadership roles in developing and evaluating the programs that serve them? I am excited to see how the work of the Innovators group unfolds!


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