Five takeaways from Youthrex: the Canadian Research and Evaluation Exchange experience
- Improving as well as proving:
Evaluation happens within a culture of learning and can have both an internal and external function. Sharing evaluation internally is a key way to support a culture of learning from the work and developing responsive programmes as a result. Meaningful engagement with young people as a continuous aspect of an evaluation approach is also a way to improve the work and to honour a commitment to a youth-centred/youth-led programme approach. Although funders are an important part of an external evaluation focus, youth sector peers and policy audiences are also crucial. Generating knowledge across this arena is key to improving the work to create positive outcomes for all youth.
- Evaluation is political, being clear on your values context is crucial:
Adhering to high ethical standards is key and being clear on what we are about. Being committed to youth well-being means being clear on specific support offers and having a focus on evidence informed work.
- Start from where a youth service is at:
Understanding a youth service’s capacity and meeting them where they are at, being flexible and responsive to individual youth organisations is key to bringing people along on an evaluation journey and working collaboratively with that programme.
- Work from a youth strength approach:
Reframing young people in the wider context of their lives creates more opportunity to talk about them from a youth strength approach. Research is key to this and being able to talk about the factors that create ‘at risk’ youth as well as recognising that there is nothing inherent about this category is crucial. The opportunity is to avoid perpetuating stories of problematised young people and tell much more hopeful stories with more holistic representation of young people’s lives and the structural inequality they are faced with.
- Commit fully to equity, diversity and inclusion:
Youthrex is increasingly guided by a commitment to principles of equity and social justice in the work and informed by an anti-oppressive, anti-racist practice. Youth workers identities are very diverse in Canada and youth workers’ intersecting identities are not seen as separate to the work but are seen by youth workers as a resource in terms of what they bring to the work.
Five key points from Dr Hilary Tierney, Maynooth University, on evaluation in the youth sector
- Keep evaluation on the agenda throughout:
Evaluation is not just something that takes place at the end. Keeping evaluation on the agenda and checking in with this regularly, recording as you go, reflecting, adapting, improving as you go, is a crucial way to build a reflective practice into the work and generate stories from this. Everyday evaluation on the run is recommended here.
- Generate knowledge about our practice:
It is really important to communicate the complexity of the work and why it is a transformative practice; this is something that is owned by youth workers and young people and is a relational practice. Reflecting on how we can use our data to generate the stories of change that happen and to tell the stories of youth work that we want to tell, as well as generating measures required by funders, is key to this.
- Remember that evaluations are not neutral:
Evaluation is generally associated with establishing the value or quality of something but that is context dependent. While often presented as an objective, scientific, rationale way of assessing the value of something, youth work is political and evaluation in that context is not neutral. Accountability is a key dimension, not just to funders but to our peers and young people. In addition, committing to using the results from an evaluation is an important way to focus on improving the practice and moves beyond serving the instrumental need to prove outcomes.
- Democratising evaluation:
In thinking about an evaluation approach, there are some key questions: Does the evaluation suit the setting? Does the evaluation approach challenge or reinforce unequal power relationships? Does it capture both the remarkable and the everyday, where the real work is taking place? These questions are taken from: The everyday and the remarkable: Valuing and evaluating youth work.
- Youthwork is a transformative practice:
Youthwork is a hopeful practice that recognises that something dynamic and transformative can happen in young people’s lives, individually and collectively. Bringing other parts of the organisation into the critical space of consciousness raising in a global youth work approach and the reflective practice lens that comes with this, can help us to look up and out and support a whole organisation approach.