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LAWG Week: Engaging Youth to Improve Program Quality by Stella SiWan Zimmerman
American Evaluation Association (AEA) American Evaluation Association (AEA)
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Washington , DC
Friday, August 02, 2019

Stella SiWan Zimmerman
Stella SiWan Zimmerman
Hello, my name is Stella SiWan Zimmerman, and I am the Founder and President of ACET, Inc. in Minneapolis, MN.
A year ago, ACET was selected to evaluate the Hmong American Partnership’s 21st Century Community Learning grant from the Minnesota Department of Education. The Hmong American Partnership collaborates with the Community School of Excellence to implement out-of-school time academic and enrichment programming aimed to “help students make important connections among their studies, curiosities, their passions, and the skills they need to become critical thinkers and productive members of society.”
As part of the evaluation, ACET conducted multiple observations using the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) to report on four domains: 1. Safe Environment, 2. Supportive Environment, 3. Interaction, and 4. Engagement. As an endorsed external assessor, we were able to follow the YPQA Assess-Plan-Improve sequence to analyze data to provide helpful information for program effectiveness.
“Too often, youth programs and evaluation plans do not include youth in shared decisions, especially with quality improvement initiatives.”
-Stella SiWan Zimmerman
Following the observations, ACET met with program and school staff to review the results and discuss next steps to strengthen programming and for engaging youth to help improve program quality. Too often, youth programs and evaluation plans do not include youth in shared decisions, especially with quality improvement initiatives. To involve young people, I offer 3 hot tips based on prior experience engaging youth with program evaluation:
Hot Tip #1: Examine opportunities to include youth before building an action plan as part of quality improvement.
The YPQA, for example, includes many areas focused on including youth voices and identifying ways for youth to make shared decisions, mentor other youth, problem solve, and lead activities. To better support next steps with YPQA results, recruit youth and help them to familiarize themselves with what expectations the school has for the programs it offers. This can help promote their support and understanding of before- and after-school activities because they understand how the activities relate to school goals.
Hot Tip #2: Have your data collection tools reviewed by youth.
Initial questions identified for a survey or script will likely need to be modified using language that youth use. The process of gathering this feedback can be facilitated by the evaluator in a small group setting. The evaluator can ask youth their thoughts on certain words used, phrases, as well as interpretive meaning.
Hot Tip #3: Sustain youth involvement in evaluation by developing relationships with them.
Too often, evaluations involve youth at only certain points in the evaluation process. By identifying ways to involve youth throughout the evaluation cycle, you’ll have more buy-in and enthusiasm from youth—and a stronger evaluation.
Hot Tip for visitors to Minnesota for Evaluation 2019:
Minnesota is home to many professional sports teams such as Minnesota United, Minnesota Lynx, Minnesota Twins, and Minnesota Vikings. We also have the Minnesota RollerGirls (roller derby), and the minor league Saint Paul Saints baseball team.
We’re looking forward to the fall and the Evaluation 2019 conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to aea365@eval.org.

About AEA

The American Evaluation Association is an international professional association and the largest in its field. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products and organizations to improve their effectiveness. AEA’s mission is to improve evaluation practices and methods worldwide, to increase evaluation use, promote evaluation as a profession and support the contribution of evaluation to the generation of theory and knowledge about effective human action. For more information about AEA, visit www.eval.org.

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