Everyone Can Vote

In true democracies, everyone is able to vote. EVEYONE. Regardless of any personal characteristics. There would be ways of understanding and knowing everyone’s political preferences in order to form a stable and well performing political organization. Some individuals may require more advanced methods of expressing their preferences. Those methods must be provided equitably by the political process and institutions.

Canadian Evaluation Conference 2015: Proposals Accepted!

I’ve recently had two presentation proposals accepted for the upcoming Canadian Evaluation Conference in Montreal in May. I’m very excited to be presenting on the following topics:

Involving Youth in a Participatory and Developmental Evaluation


Programs and services designed for youth have traditionally excluded the participation and voice of its main stakeholders and beneficiaries. This often results in poorly designed interventions that further exclude youth and misses opportunities for empowerment.

A youth participatory and developmental evaluation was conducted for a youth mentorship program designed for young community leaders that have started their own social enterprises in downtown Toronto. Youth in the program were encouraged to participate in the evaluation through various methods including obtaining youth assent, reflective discussions, creating accountability systems, and assuring confidentiality and appropriate use of youth voices. This paper presents the lessons learned using various strategies and approaches to working with youth, as well as, the systematic and ethical strategies of maximizing participation and appropriate use of evaluation findings.


Youth participatory evaluation is quickly growing as a new field of inquiry that promises to strengthen and enhance programs and services designed for youth. Involving youth in the design, implementation and reporting of evaluation activities can substantial increase the relevance, accuracy and impact of the evaluation findings by ensuring that the main stakeholders have a meaningful and authentic role in the design and continual improvement of programs and services designed for them. In addition to creating and disseminating more relevant and accurate evaluation findings, youth participatory evaluation can be more ethical than the many traditional research methods used in program evaluation.
A youth participatory and developmental evaluation was conducted for a youth mentorship program designed for young community leaders that have started their own social enterprises in downtown Toronto. To properly evaluate and instil a ‘culture of innovation’ within the program, a comprehensive evaluation framework was designed with the first cohort of the mentorship program. To build a solid base from which the evaluation can evolve with maximal youth participation, a Theory of Change workshop was conducted with the program participants, including youth-mentees, adult mentors, program staff and other interested community members. From this base, youth were encouraged to participate in the evaluation through various, intentionally designed participatory methods, including obtaining youth assent, frequent reflective discussions, creating accountability systems, and assuring confidentiality and appropriate use of youth voices.

Considering that many of the youth in the program lead their own social enterprises that focus on the creative arts, it was decided that evaluation findings would be presented through various formats in addition to the traditional report to funders, including story-telling, spoken word, and theatrical presentations. These creative formats of disseminating evaluation findings was meant to empower youth to be able to share their experiences and opinions in ways that built on their strengths of creative performance and artistic endeavours.
In addition to a participatory evaluation approach, a developmental evaluation (DE) approach was also followed. Due to the rapidly changing nature of youth culture, as well as, government policies, programs and services for youth, a developmental approach to program evaluation ensured that the program can remain relevant and useful to the program participants. DE was particularly well suited for this program because of the highly complex and constantly changing nature of youth programming in the creative arts and social enterprise sector.

This presentation will include a demonstration of the various strategies and approaches to working with youth in the creative arts sector, as well as, the systematic and ethical strategies of maximizing participation and appropriate use of evaluation findings. The presentation will engage the audience in discussion around the following questions: How can evaluators meaningfully enter a youth culture that may be different than typical research settings? How do you empower youth to use evaluation findings for program improvements, as well as, personal improvement? As an adult researcher, what are the strategies to remain ethical and responsive to the needs of the youth in the evaluation?


Obtaining young children’s assent to participate in research


The methodology of research is critical in determining any truth claim that a research study posits. In researching childhood, a critical methodological concern is the power dynamics that occur between adults (who are typically the researcher) and children (who are typically the subject). In order to make any truth claims based on the scientific process, careful consideration must be given to the ethics of involving children in research so that power dynamics can become more equalized. This process begins with obtaining children’s assent to participate in the research process. As an adult researcher, the process of obtaining children’s assent rests on the recognition that children are competent social actors who are capable of making sense of and affecting their societies. From this recognition, adult and child researchers can begin the design and sense-making activities of research that will enhance any discoveries made about childhood.


All research involves at least two main participants, the researcher and the subject. The relationship between researcher and subject is defined by the methodology of the research. The methodology of research is critical in determining any truth claim that a research study posits.

In researching childhood, a critical methodological concern is the power dynamics that occur between adults and children. In order to make any truth claims based on the scientific process, careful consideration must be given to the ethics of involving children in research so that power dynamics can become more equalized. Ethical considerations include: how an adult researcher’s attitude and ideas about children influence the scientific process and truth statements; how a child’s attitude and ideas about adult researchers influence the scientific process and truth statements; the social environment in which the research is taking place; and the use of research discoveries. These considerations take into account the sociology of childhood which is also a well established academic discipline.

The evaluation of programs and services for children can learn a lot from the sociology of childhood in order to design and implement effective and ethical interventions in the lives of children. This presentation will highlight some of the ethical considerations that adults need to take when working with young children and will inspire some creative, fun and engaging ways to obtain children’s assent to participate in evaluation activities.

Roots of Empathy Evaluation Reflections

This short post summarizes the evaluation work of the Roots of Empathy program up to 2012. I was not involved in the evaluation. Regardless, I suggest some recommendations for future evaluations in different cultural contexts considering the emerging international scope of the program. You can view publications of the Roots of Empathy program here.

The Program

The Roots of Empathy (ROE) program is an evidence-based classroom program that is meant to foster the development of social and emotional learning and understanding while decreasing aggressive and other anti-social behaviors in children (Roots of Empathy, 2012). The emotion of empathy is considered to be a core developmental competency that supports and enhances other prosocial behaviors that last a lifetime (Roots of Empathy, 2012). ROE began in 1996 in Toronto, Canada with the support of the Toronto District School Board. Since then, the program has expanded and implemented in rural, urban and Aboriginal communities across Canada, internationally in the United States, New Zealand, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, and Scotland with pilot projects elsewhere (Roots of Empathy, 2012).

The three primary goals of the program are to (1) develop children’s social and emotional understanding, (2) promote children’s prosocial behaviors and decrease their aggressive behaviors, and (3) increase children’s knowledge about infant development and effective parenting practices (Schonert-Reichl, Smith, Zaidman-Zait, Hertzman, 2011).


Program Activities

The cornerstone of the program is monthly visits of a parent and their infant child. These visits serve to springboard discussions, lessons and activities within the classroom that are facilitated by ROE program instructors and classroom teachers. One of the core material inputs of the ROE program is a 639-page curriculum with lesson plans and activities which are divided into affective and cognitive components (Roots of Empathy, 2012; Schonert-Reichl et al., 2011). The affective component of the program is meant to address the short-term goal of developing children’s social and emotional understanding, empathy and problem-solving skills (Schonert- Reichl et al., 2011). The cognitive component of the program is meant to increase children’s knowledge about infant development and promote effective parenting practice (Schonert-Reichl et al., 2011). The ultimate goals of the program are the development of prosocial behaviors and decrease of aggressive behaviors that last a lifetime (Roots of Empathy, 2012).


Why It Should Work?

The ROE program operates on the well-researched understanding that emotional processes and social understandings play a critical role in the development of prosocial and aggressive behaviors, and interpersonal relationships in children (Schonert-Reichl et al., 2011). Furthermore, empathy is understood to be a core component in the genesis and enactment of prosocial behaviors (Schonert-Reichl, 2011). The lesson plans and activities that address the affective component of the ROE program create an ecology in the classroom environment which emphasizes caring, collaboration and understanding of others (Cohen, 2011; Noddings, 1993). This environment is also conducive to the general classroom curriculum as children use math skills to determine an infant’s height and weight, build literacy skills through books on emotions, and develop artistic skills as children express their inner emotions through paintings, drawings and song (Roots of Empathy, 2012). The program should work as an effective preventative initiative to guide children onto successful development paths by emphasizing prosocial behaviors and decreasing aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, the sustainability of the program is addressed by emphasizing its role in the state-mandated, general education curriculum (Roots of Empathy, 2012).

Previous Evaluations

A previous program evaluations was conducted by Schonert-Reichl, Smith, Zaidman- Zait and Hertzman in 2011 in order to evaluate the impact of the ROE program on the social and emotional competence of school-aged children. Their study used a quasi-experimental control- group pretest-posttest, multi-informant design with 585 4th – to 7th grade children from 28 classrooms in two Canadian cities. They found significant improvements across several domains including understandings of infant distress, empathy, perspective taking, prosocial behaviors and a reduction in aggressive behaviors.

Since then, 7 other program evaluations have been conducted across Canada with different grades and populations (Roots of Empathy Research Report, 2009). Most early evaluations of the program used selected control groups that matched with respect to grade, gender, and race/ethnicity composition. Two other evaluations were conducted using randomized controlled studies, which represent ‘gold standards’ in program evaluations because it ensures both known and unknown confounding factors are evenly distributed between the groups (Roots of Empathy Research Report, 2009).

Future Evaluations

Considering that the program is currently operating in multiple countries with varying social and cultural characteristics, I would propose a program evaluation that carefully considers the assumptions and external factors that lead to the program outcomes. The assumptions made by Schonert-Reichl et al. (2011) were based on the typical developmental paths by children in a Canadian, urban context where stories of marginalization, aggression and bullying are prevalent (Roots of Empathy, 2012). Other contexts in which the program is operating, for example, in Northern Ireland where conflict is underpinned by historical, religious, political, economic, and psychological elements (Cairns & Darby, 1998), the assumptions and external factors that lead to improvements in prosocial behavior and decreases in aggressive behaviors may be radically different than the Canadian context.

A key challenge for many schools involve serving culturally diverse students with varied abilities and motivations for learning (Learning First Alliance, 2001). As such, I recommend a mixed quantitative-qualitative program evaluation of the ROE program using randomized controlled groups from various schools that represent radically different ethnographic populations. The evaluation measurements of the outcomes would be based on the unique needs and characteristics of the children. For example, to assess participant’s empathy related response, Schonert-Reichl et al. (2011) used the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1983), a self- report that measures different dimensions of empathy. In another study on empathy, Cliffordson (2001) used the IRI in combination with a global measure to examine the agreement of empathy between parents and students. The use of the parents’ judgement in children’s empathy development may provide extra context and validation to the child’s empathic development within the ROE program that reflects their unique social and cultural context.



Cairns, E. and Darby, J. (1998). The conflict in Northern Ireland: Causes, consequences, and controls. American Psychologist 53(7). 754-760.

Cohen, J. (Ed.). (2001). Caring classrooms/intelligent schools: The social emotional education of young children. New York: Teachers College Press.

Cliffordson, C. (2001) ‘Parents’ judgments and students’ self-judgments of empathy’. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 17(1), pp. 36 – 47.

Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113–126.

Learning First Alliance. (2001). Every child learning: Safe and supportive schools. Washington, DC.

Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Roots of Empathy (2012). Roots of Empathy: From Research to Recognition. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.rootsofempathy.org/en/

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Smith, V., Zaidman-Zait, A., & Hertzman, C. (2011). Promoting Children’s Prosocial Behaviors in School: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” Program on the Social and Emotional Competence of School-Aged Children. School Mental Health, 4(1), 1-21.

Innovative Approaches to Corporate Social Responsibility

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests an innovative approach to funding CSR (corporate social responsibility) projects. The unique approach is particular because it seeks to appease two kinds of shareholders–those that want to engage directly in social initiatives through a company and those that choose not to risk capital–capital that can be used to generate more value for the company. The suggestion is to create subsidiary entities that focus on social change rather than financial gain. This particular type of subsidiary would appeal more to social investors that want to directly invest in a social initiative. If the social initiative proves successful, then the social investors, the company and the shareholders-at-large win. If it is unsuccessful, then only the social investors loss their capital.

This approach will offer a choice to those investors that want to encourage a company to engage in social initiatives. It will also offer them an opportunity to do good while still standing to gain financially.

Innovative approaches such as this are already gaining traction in Canada. A partnership between Social Innovation Generation and MaRS is already paving the way for an emerging discipline called, social finance. Some recent accomplishments include the creation of a high-level report for policy development in social finance, a rich knowledge database for social investors and organizations that wish to attract social investors, and several advocacy and consulting organizations (Social Venture Exchange, SocialFinance.ca, etc.)

The question remains whether this new field will make substantial gains in social progress for society-at-large. Should more funds be directed to social service organisations to accomplish social initiatives or is it time to give the business sector a chance to fulfill greater social purposes? Either way, the union between ‘social’ and ‘finance’ have begun their grand experiment.

Success Spoken Here: Preparing Citizens of the World

The John Stanford International School in Seattle immerses students in global awareness through a focus on technology, art, and music. This school is a great example of innovation in the educational system as teachers, administrators, parents and children embrace new approaches to education that is researched-based and culturally-aware. In this video, the confidence and self-esteem that comes with global awareness and language proficiency becomes very obvious through the student and teacher testimonials.

To learn more, please visit their website at http://www.jsisweb.com/
I learned about this innovative school through the Edutopia website at http://www.edutopia.org

Be Nice to Spiders

Be Nice to Spiders, by Margaret Bloy Graham

“A little boy is moving to a new apartment that doesn’t allow pets.  Not having a place for his pet spider “Helen” to stay, he decides to leave her in a box at the front gate of the zoo.  Inside the box is a note asking that the zookeeper take care of her.   When the zookeeper opens the box, Helen escapes and makes her way into the lions’ cage.  Before the arrival of Helen, the lioness and her cubs were miserable, covered in flies from mane to paws.  Helen, whose favorite meal is flies, sets up her web in the corner of the lions’ cage and begins to feast.  A week later, Helen has eaten all the flies in the lions’ cage and so moves next door to the elephant house.

This weekly migration of spinning, eating and moving on continues and the zoo becomes a peaceful, fly-free place for all.  The harmony is broken when the zookeeper decides the zoo needs to be cleaned up for an upcoming inspection by the mayor.  Despite a protest from one of his assistants that “spider webs are supposed to be sort of useful,” the zookeeper decides that all spider webs must go!  With that, the balance among flies, animals and Helen is broken.

To avoid the cleaners, Helen disappears into a crack in the ceiling of the camel house and remains hidden there for several days.  At first, the zoo looks spotless.  However, with Helen gone, the flies begin to come back after a few days.  Helen spins her web at night in the camel’s cage but does not travel around to other cages for fear of being swept away by the zoo attendants. All the other animals once again begin to look miserable, except for the camel.  The zookeeper and his assistant finally realize the role Helen has played in maintaining harmony within the zoo.  The “ah-hah!” leads the zookeeper to establish a new rule at the zoo:  “Be nice to spiders.””

This story that is read in Early Childhood Classrooms highlights the social conflict that occurs when people view conflicts as short-term rather than long-term. This story teaches the importance of viewing a conflict from a broader perspective, that is, viewing the benefits of a spider in catching flies rather then the unattractiveness of the spider’s web. Ultimately, the point of the story is to be nice to spiders because they provide a value to the system, in this case, the zoo.
This story, used in the early childhood classroom, can provide an introduction to learning about living systems. Living systems is an, “animate arrangement of parts and processes that continually affect each other over time” (Sweeney, 2008). Through learning about the interdependence of the parts of a system, children can begin to understand many issues surrounding environmental sustainability, biodiversity, living cycles, etc. which are all very important social issues.
Sweeney, L. B. (2008). Principles of Living Systems. Taken from [ http://www.farmbasededucation.org/page/systems-teaching-and-farmbased ]

Systems_gfx.pdf (290 KB)
View this on posterous

The Joy of Stats: Hans Rosling on World Population Health and Income

There is a rising trend of using infographics and video technology to explain very significant statistics–statistics that were often isolated to only minor appearances in public service announcements and discussions within academia. But with the rise of new media formats and data visualization technology, these statistics have the opportunity to appeal to the general audience and inform them about some very important data that explain some very important issues.

In this video, Hans Rosling explains the connection between life expectancy and income through 200 years in 200 countries using 120,000 numbers in just 4 minutes. Hans shows how the world we live in changed radically over 200 years and how this world is very different then the world most of us imagine. From the data visualizations, we see the huge disparities in income and health between countries and even within countries, as Hans demonstrates within the different provinces of China.

This video is part of a new series from BBC called, “The Joy of Stats”.

This documentary will explore various forms of data gathering and statistical analysis, such as a new application that mashes police department data with the city’s street map to show what crime is being reported street by street, house by house, in near real-time; and Google’s current efforts at the machine translation project.

It is exciting to see this new surge in data visualizations and the opportunity to explain the world that we all live in.

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