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

Summary:

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.

Relevance:

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

Summary:

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.

Relevance:

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.

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