Summer 2004

Youth Engagement in Evaluation and Research
by Leslie Goodyear and Caroline Bennett

When young people are involved in community research and evaluation, all sides of the equation benefit greatly. Youth engagement bridges the generation gap, provides important information from new perspectives, and builds both skills and community connections for the young people involved. Organizations have engaged young people in a diverse array of evaluation and research activities, including community mapping with photography, surveying other young people about attitudes related to drug and alcohol use, and assessing community need for services and advocating for new programs. Still, there is a vast untapped potential for CTCs to engage the young people they serve in evaluation and research.

There are many good reasons to make an effort at engaging youth in these evaluation and community research projects. First and foremost, CTCs can provide a great service to young people in their communities by helping them build skills applicable to both academic performance and future employment. From research, analysis and communication, to databases, software and web development, there are plenty of areas in which young people can gain experience and prowess while providing a service to organizations. CTCs have the opportunity to offer the opportunity for young people in their communities to develop a proud sense of civic leadership and community participation, which will be of lasting benefit for life. Through evaluation and research projects with CTCs, young volunteers and their peers enhance their skills and self-esteem, and develop important relationships with professionals, researchers, and other adults.

Young people and organizations can form a mutually-beneficial relationship that promotes positive outcomes for everyone involved. For CTCs, there are definite rewards to be reaped from engaging young people in community research and program evaluation. Obviously, incorporating youth perspectives is of great importance to an organization that attempts to serve youth needs. Often young people can provide information and insight that help CTCs make sure they stay relevant, informed, and connected to their segment of the community. A healthy amount of diversity and intergenerational respect can be generated by involving young people in research, evaluation, and development. In sum, CTCs have the power to strengthen local youth and their own organizational culture at the same time.

As with any worthwhile process, there are challenges involved. Organizations that have engaged young people in research and evaluation projects have found that it involves a major investment of time, training, and support. It can be difficult for a CTC to arrange its organizational capacity, in terms of funding and staff time, to allow for the special support that young volunteers may need. In addition, combining rigorous research approaches with youth engagement is challenging and necessitates trusting young people to measure up to your organization's standards. Another challenge that may arise is ensuring that youth findings and recommendations are treated seriously. Youth-generated information may challenge established ideas and other findings, and organizations must make a special effort to address youth issues. Finding the right balance between positive youth development and a CTC's research is by no means a simple task, but there is plenty to make it a rewarding effort.

Leslie Goodyear
Leslie Goodyear is Senior Research Associate for the ITEST (Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers) project at EDC, Inc. Her background is in program evaluation and research, with expertise in evaluation methodology, specifically interpretive, mixed-method and participatory-democratic designs for program evaluation and applied research. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from Macalester College, and a Masters and Ph.D. in Human Service Studies and Program Evaluation from Cornell University. Caroline Bennett contributed to this piece.

Post a comment

Remember personal info?

* Denotes required field.