Author: Sarah Rose, Collective Discovery, learning partner of The Listening Fund
Learning and evaluation can be powerful processes – informing judgements and decision making about impact, accountability and effectiveness. They are not value- or power-neutral processes: they are shaped by who decides what impact is, what stories get told, and what is deemed significant.
Involving young people in learning and evaluation can therefore be an important way for organisations to become more accountable to young people – but how to involve young people in these processes is new territory for some organisations and funders. Collective Discovery are working with The Listening Fund to explore how they can do this and we spoke with a variety of organisations during our research. Their experiences are summarised in our new practice paper, and this blog aims to highlight key themes, starting with…
Some of the reasons to involve young people in learning and evaluation:
Organisations that we spoke to found that involving young people in learning and evaluation has contributed to:
- Increasing trust and strengthening relationships: Collaboration through learning and effective listening can contribute to young people feeling more confidence in, and connection with youth organisations and professionals.
- Supporting authentic narratives of change: Learning processes allow for a deeper understanding of how change is happening and the diversity of young people’s experiences. This also supports young people to have control of how and if stories are told about their lives.
- Increased relevance of programmes, support and campaigns: Young people are best placed to decide what impact should look like and how to document it. They are experts in their own experience, and understand what information is important and how it can be effectively and sensitively collected.
- Strengthened accountability: Although learning and evaluation can strengthen accountability to funders and young people, it is sometimes more responsive to funder demands. When young people are involved, there is more balance, which means data collection becomes more meaningful and useful.
- Reduced likelihood of harm: Young people can help to ensure that data is collected in a safe and ethical way. This can potentially reduce the chance that it will feel extractive or be traumatic for young people.
- Greater job satisfaction and staff retention: Professionals who are involved in listening processes with young people have greater job satisfaction which can feed through into staff retention.
- Opportunity to develop skills and confidence: Being involved in these processes can enable young people to develop skills and confidence in research, analysis and decision-making processes.
- Greater innovation: Young people can bring different perspectives and fresh ideas and can strengthen critical thinking by asking questions and challenging the status quo.
The case for exploring how to involve young people in learning and evaluation is compelling. However, it’s a multifaceted area, with many possible tensions arising in the process of sharing power with young people.
Some of the tensions we found:
Who decides what matters and what is safe?
The starting point for any strategy is defining what change you want to see as a result of your work, deciding how you will know if that change has happened, and how to use resources. Those who make these decisions hold power and responsibility.
Deciding what matters can be shaped by young people, senior teams, boards and funders. Organisations need to be conscious of the different interests that each of these groups hold, and the pressure they might be under to prove their approach works.
Once decisions are made about what data is important and useful, there are also ethical considerations. The process of data collection needs informed consent and feedback to ensure it is safe and does not create harm.
Who decides what information is important and what it tells us?
In the process of collecting and analysing data, judgement calls are made about what stories to tell, what questions to ask and what evidence is important. These judgements can be influenced by the needs of multiple stakeholders. It is important to be conscious that these judgements may bias evidence to a particular stakeholder view.
Organisations can address this by collecting multiple perspectives and placing these in context to understand meaning. There are a range of narrative-based learning and evaluation tools which can be used, which can be balanced with number-based collection.
Who makes decisions and receives feedback?
Once data is analysed, understood and communicated, the next step in the learning and evaluation cycle is to make decisions. Decisions can take the form of adjusting strategies, changing approaches, reallocating funding, opening up new programmes or shutting down existing programmes.
These decisions can’t be taken lightly, and again those involved in the process hold a lot of power to shape the future direction of work. It’s valuable to bring young people into the process to ensure it is relevant, but be mindful that it is a lot of responsibility.
Young people need to be supported when difficult decisions are made. Organisations also need to be honest about when there is no space for young people to be part of decision-making. This manages expectations and ensures that trust and confidence is not eroded.
When decisions are made, the next step is to feedback to anyone who has been involved in the process. This feedback needs to be accessible to all stakeholders. If this is done well it will build trust and confidence. If it not done well, the process will feel extractive and organisations may find it difficult to involve stakeholders in the future.
See more on challenges and how we can navigate them in the full report.
Involving young people in learning and evaluation is worth the work: it can help organisations to be more meaningful and develop strategies which are more impactful.
But ultimately, it is important to recognise that this process will look different for each organisation. We suggest taking an exploratory approach. Be curious about the purpose of involving young people and the challenges and limitations of different approaches.
To help you get started, you might want to explore some of the tools and guides we gathered together in the ‘Further Reading’ section of our report.