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Improve your program by including youth voice in evaluation

By Betsy Olson

Research continues to confirm what we youth workers have known for years – that youth voice is critical for high-quality youth development programming. An important part of this picture – one that is often overlooked – is evaluation.

The Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality offers three strategies to ensure youth have a voice in your program.

Youth should have opportunities to:

  1. Provide input and feedback
  2. Make relevant and meaningful choices
  3. Lead - Leadership opportunities should include increasing levels of challenge and responsibility over time
I don’t think it is a coincidence that collecting input and feedback from youth is the number-one strategy listed here. So how do you collect honest feedback from youth? And how do you make sure their feedback is incorporated to the program? It’s easier said than done.

One way is to involve youth in the development of that evaluation tool. Doing so can make the tool more effective and give insight into youth priorities.

Consider breaking down your evaluation plan like this:
Or try a creative approach, such as photo sorting. Using this technique, you could sort photos from the year into groups based on the amount of learning that participants took away from each activity. Another approach: try some photovoice activities.

Regardless of how you involve youth in the evaluation processes, the critical point is to ensure that you are collecting their authentic responses and that you use their responses to report or evaluate outcomes or improve the program for the next group of participants.

Consider using youth input in the following ways:
  • Check your assumptions about the program and the participants
  • Identify recommendations from the input you collected 
  • Identify strategies that respond to those recommendations
  • Consider additional questions you want to ask to clarify their input
  • Report evaluation findings to stakeholders (including youth) through written reports or summaries, social media, presentations, videos, etc. 

In summary, collecting authentic input from youth is a critical part of ensuring that youth are empowered and their voices are heard in our programs. However, just collecting it isn't enough. We need to take it on board and act on it. What impactful input have you collected from your youth participants? How did you ensure you were collecting authentic feedback? How did you use it in your program?

-- Betsy Olson, Extension educator

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  1. One tool in our tool box to help our programs continue to build and improve is interactive evaluation or feedback mechanisms.

  2. Thanks for the post, Betsy. Youth voice in evaluation is so important--best way to get real feedback on the effectiveness of our programs, but also helps them feel a sense of ownership. I like the idea of involving youth in synthesizing the data--for instance, getting their help identifying which recommendations from the data to implement.

  3. Thank you, Jess. We often forget that youth can play a role in helping us make sense of our evaluation data and plan to improve our programs. It takes a bit of vulnerability on our part to open up the program improvement process to input from youth but as you said it helps them feel a sense of ownership and therefore connection to our programs.


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