By Vince Terstappen, Project & Operations Coordinator for Check Your Head: The Youth Global Education Network
For a project to train youth as peer educators, we experimented with several participatory, dialogue-based evaluation methods that yielded great results. The impact of this approach was twofold. First, it created powerful opportunities for participants to share, take ownership of the project, and engage with one another, strengthening their relationships. Second, it created a great deal of very interesting, unexpected, and useful evaluation data that we incorporated into reports to participants, members, and funders. Two particularly interesting approaches were used.
First, after participants completed an online survey with a number of quantitative and qualitative questions about actions they had taken in the community, we created a visual representation of the information in aggregate. We ‘closed the loop’ by presenting this visual to the participants during a gathering and supported them as they facilitated a dialogue on what it meant to be part of an active and engaged community.
When the online surveys were considered in isolation, the participants may not have felt that their impact was substantial; however, when seen as one part of a larger movement, the actions appeared much larger. In post-evaluations, several participants noted that one of the biggest things that they took away from the project was knowing that they are part of a community of like-minded youth.
Secondly, as a closing exercise after a year of training and engagement activities, participants were able to give feedback to one another anonymously. For this, 15 participants stood in a circle with their eyes closed. One participant was selected to step outside of the circle, open their eyes, and think of one person who inspired them over the last year. They walked to that person, tapped them on the shoulder, and silently returned to their spot in the circle, closing their eyes. The person who was tapped could then open their eyes and was asked to anonymously tap someone who taught them something and then return to their spot. This process continued with a number of questions about different contributions made by participants until everyone had been anonymously tapped a few times.
Participants remarked later that they really enjoyed this evaluation exercise, that they were caught off-guard (in a good way!) by the reasons they were tapped, and that it created a sense of community. It was a great way to ‘close the loop’ with participants, to report back to them in a participatory and creative way, and to have them take a leading role in providing feedback to one another and, as a result, to the organization and the project evaluation.