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Kristen Zimmerman and Nancy Erbstein, Co-Directors of Community LORE, reveal how their organization promotes and supports youth participation in research, evaluation, and planning.

Democratic societies depend on the representation and participation of their members. Yet few organizations truly include the voices of stakeholders—particularly those of youth—in decision making and evaluation. The goals of Youth Empowerment Evaluation (YEE) are to increase youth voice in policies, programs, and organizations intended to serve them, and to enhance the ability of youth-serving organizations to effectively address and engage young people.

For nine years, Community LORE has promoted and supported youth participation in research, evaluation, and planning. Through our YEE initiative, we work as coaches, facilitators, and trainers (rather than evaluators) to develop the capacity of youth and adults to conduct youth-led evaluations. Young people gain the experience, skills, and concepts necessary to evaluate youth-serving organizations and to design organizational feedback loops that nurture learning, planning, and change. Adults learn to work in partnership with youth.

We work on four levels:

  • Training youth within organizations to design and conduct evaluations
  • Developing curriculum for adult facilitators and youth leaders on planning and facilitating youth evaluation processes
  • Coaching organization leaders and adult evaluators on working with youth as full partners and integrating youth leadership and evaluation into organizational structures and cultures
  • Facilitating networking between organizations undertaking YEE

Two recent Community LORE projects include the Jamestown Community Center evaluation and the Juvenile Justice Evaluation Project (JJE; see next article). The Jamestown project engaged participants in the Center’s strategic planning process. We trained middle school aged youth to interview program participants and non-participants regarding their perceptions of the Center and their future program needs. For the JJE Project, Community LORE trained 12 youth to assess the impact of reforms on San Francisco’s juvenile justice system. We collaborated with Rising Youth for Social Equity, Delancy Street Foundation, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, and the Center for the Study of Social Change (University of California, Berkeley).

The following were critical to engaging and supporting youth evaluators:

  • Collaboration. We planned the projects with host organizations in order to adapt the process to the context.
  • Mentoring. Adults co-facilitated projects with youth staff to build their capacity to organize evaluation processes.
  • Youth Development Process. We designed the evaluations as educational processes by using a series of fun, skill-building activities.
  • Intensive Skill and Team Building. We organized retreats to build important skills and a strong team.
  • Compensation. We paid youth for their work.
  • Institutional Accountability. We worked with adults to help them incorporate and respond to the findings of youth evaluators.

YEE is a powerful process. Following are changes that these organizations initiated as a result of youth evaluations:

  • Innovative new programs. Based on youth evaluator findings, Jamestown expanded its programming to serve middle school youth with arts, community organizing, and educational activities.
  • Restructuring programs to better serve and engage youth. Based on youth evaluator feedback, Delancey Street Foundation restructured its assessment and referral center for youth who have been arrested.
  • Increased youth voice in programs and policy. The evaluation team’s decision to survey nonparticipating youth enabled Jamestown to reach a broader youth constituency. The JJE Project enabled youth to evaluate and design alternatives to incarceration. This will serve as a model for similar programs nationwide.
  • Systematic transformation. Youth now participate in all program development at Jamestown. This commitment is backed up with substantial training and support.

YEE promotes the systemic transformation of youth service organizations into institutions which value and fully utilize youth leadership and which address the genuine needs of youth, their families, and the broader community.

Community LORE’s YEE initiative develops the capacity of youth-serving organizations to engage youth in evaluation through coaching, curricula, training, and network development.

Community LORE is supported by the S.H. Cowell Foundation, the Grousebeck Family Fund, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation. Rising Youth for Social Equity and the JJE Project are supported by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the Luke B. Hancock Foundation.

Kristen Zimmerman

Nancy Erbstein

Community LORE
2017 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel: 415-621-1402

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project