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The next generation of youth data: Will we consult young people this time around?

By Deborah Moore

We seem to be at a time of renewed interest in creating shared data across youth programs. For example, we recently hosted Dr. Roger Weissberg on the importance of social and emotional outcomes for youth and featured many blog posts this fall on the topic.

But if you have been in the field long enough, you have seen this before. At one point, there was on emphasis on participation and counting --- where it seemed an onerous task to sort out who showed up and who stayed. I remember those days fondly now.

Then there was the call for quantifying what difference youth programs make in learning and developmental outcomes for young people. Yes, people - we can make a difference!

Next, there came the tools and rationale to assess and improve levels of program quality as highlighted in Yohalem's article on quality assessments.

Turns out, we can focus on data that is good for practitioners, youth and stakeholders, all at the same time -- when we select a good tool. Data can be a powerful tool for understanding some aspects of what happens when we work with youth in our communities.

In each phase of evolution around measuring youth work, I could argue that we have both gained and lost something in the process of focusing and clarifying what we will measure and how. But what I cannot see consistently in any of these movements to adopt new data sources is how young people play a role beyond informant.

Why, at each data intersection, do we forget to involve youth in determining this with us?

It matters because I suspect we are at another intersection of data "policy" development, and I am not sure we are upping our bets for success by including youth this time, either. There are many examples in the literature about the benefits to youth involved in leading evaluation work, such as social capital building, civic competencies, self-confidence, identity creation and more. I am convinced there is an equal, if not exponential benefit for stakeholders in out-of-school time. Jane Powers talks about how involving youth in evaluation, from start to finish, created better research, better interpretation, and easier buy-in from stakeholders. So why don't we consider this methodology as a must in youth work?

For my part, I spent the last year working with a group of youth work practitioners exploring the question: "What is the Role of Youth in Evaluation?" The focus of this project was to both challenge our own thinking and practices related to youth taking a significant role in evaluation and to begin tackling contexts for change beyond our own daily interactions. Each of these 20 practitioners are hard at work trying to figure out how to make change where they have influence.

What are you going to do as we move to critical decision points about data in the field? What if a third set of data that we aligned around was youth-led evaluation? How could that look from all of our vantage points?

If you are a practitioner and need some resources to make it real - check out one of the many practical guides to partnering with youth in evaluation from the Forum for Youth Investment.

As the youth summed it up for us during the past year, here are the Top 10 Things Adults Should Know About Involving Youth in Evaluation:
  1. Hey!
  2. I have great ideas
  3. Ask me what I think
  4. Remember us
  5. Make me comfortable
  6. Provide the means
  7. Trust me
  8. Believe in me
  9. Let us do the planning
  10. Peace Out.

-- Deborah Moore, former state educator, program quality

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