Research and evaluation is best practice in youth development when these activities
  • Strengthen relationships: Listening is the key to assessing needs, nurturing individuals, and treating youth as partners. Research and evaluation are more systematic and sustained methods of listening. When youth feel betrayed by lack of confidentiality, test-stressed, coerced to give "politically correct" answers, or that their voice is lost or forgotten, relationships lose trust, optimism, synergy, and creativity critical to individual confidence and mastery as well as group cohesion and energy.
  • Promote skills: As in any experiential learning process, exposure to new ideas and formats promotes reflection, insight, and creative expression (esp. written or oral response formats). Typically, research should not bias response (e.g., suggest a 'correct' answer), provoke distress (e.g., physical injury or emotional breakdown), distort true abilities (e.g., provide cues that result in poor measurement of abilities), or confuse. However, every opportunity to think about what is known, how it is used, and why it is important, influences a person's knowledge, attitudes, skills, and aspirations going forward. This potential influence is why an appropriate assessment is critical--measures that are too challenging may unnecessarily discourage; measures that are too general or not validated may not produce clear results.
  • Build capacity: The research process--preparation, task completion, debriefing, and reflecting on results--is an educational experience (for better or worse). Several components of that experience can influence the researcher and the participant's views and abilities of 1) specific research topic, 2) research processes (e.g., completing a computer scan form, taking turns in a focus group), 3) the larger skill-set (e.g., communication, decision-making) and 4) relationships with researchers and participants (e.g., talking with strangers, experiencing trust and affirmation). Positive changes result in researchers better understanding their craft as well as their research interests. Changes for participants result in their ability to process information and engage in thoughtful investigation. Finally, these processes across an organization and across time result in growth of organizational capacity to reflect on key concerns, to use investigations to explore those concerns, and to use data to improve programs and impact individuals.
This page copyright 2008 Ben Silliman, but you are free to comment on the ideas.