Considering youth participation in evaluation by Sarah McKay

In my work as a researcher and evaluator I am informed by positive youth development values such as youth participation. Participatory or empowerment evaluation seeks to actively include stakeholders such as young people in substantive ways in the evaluation process. Some evaluators have outlined what they have learnt about undertaking this process with young people and the potential benefits and limitations of this approach. A key theme in this is the need to ensure that young people are included in the process in genuine ways and that resources and support from caring adults is vital to enable this.  Zeldin et al (2006) says “youth must have authentic roles and real responsibilities; and like all of us, they need training and support to do the job well” (p. 1).

Important strategies for involving young people in participatory evaluation have been identified as:

  • robust planning, adequate time and resources and assessing organisational readiness
  • consider diversity – ‘young people’ are not homogenous
  • ensure young people are given good information and can choose how they want to participate
  • young people choosing roles that are appropriate for their level of development/ interests
  • consider young people’s different capacities including age, independence and maturity
  • recognise participation may vary depending on young people’s capabilities, motivation and time
  • identifying clear roles for young people and adults is essential to meet project aims
  • practical training for young people and adults to participate
  • opportunities for regular feedback from young people and adults
  • continued support and regular reflection about the process to ensure it is manageable for participants and they do not become overwhelmed
  • recognise that young people may choose to change how they participate over time
  • adults engaging in critical reflection about how adult voices are often privileged
  • sustainability is supported by seeking to understand young people’s motivation to participate, tailoring the project accordingly and recognising young people’s contribution
  • actively support youth perspectives and create strategies to sustain engagement such as fostering peer support

Writings about this topic clearly outline the multiple benefits of this approach for young people, social programmes and the wider community. However, it is important to consider a significant limitation of participatory and empowerment approaches is that they are time and resource intensive. In the current environment there are often limited time and resources for evaluation and while we seek to include young people in respectful and genuine ways in every project, this represents a significant barrier to undertaking participatory evaluation. This also challenges what we might sometimes label as participatory approaches in both evaluation and broader decision-making processes and the need for further consideration of what ‘participation’ means in different settings.

 

Fox, J., & Cater, M. (2011). Participatory evaluation: factors to consider when involving youth. Journal of Extension, 49(2), 1-4. https://www.joe.org/joe/2011april/tt2.php

Zeldin, S., O’Connor, C., & Camino, L. (2006). Youth as evaluators: What’s an adult to do. ACT for Youth Upstate Center of Excellence: Practice Matters, 1-4. http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/pm/pm_youtheval_0106.pdf

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