methods, program evaluation, youth

Working with youth advisers

September 10, 2018 | Pieta Blakely

I always enjoy interviewing youth. I find them insightful, frank, smart, and funny. But working with youth advisers to plan interviews with youth participants can make the interview process go even better.

I recently had the opportunity to conduct an evaluation of a program that serves people aged 14 to 24. The evaluation involved some group interviews as well as unstructured observations of the space. I worked with youth advisers to help me implement my research and they were helpful in several important ways. Here, I share how I worked with the youth advisers and some of the ways that they helped make this project successful.

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My first few hours in the space were spent just hanging out. I made it a point to introduce myself to youths, listen in on their conversations, and chat with them about whatever they were doing or talking about. During this time, I talked about video games and music, not the space or the program that I was evaluating. I made it a point not to ask any questions that were relevant to my study or to ask anything that might be intrusive or sensitive but youth did volunteer their opinions. My primary goal was to make myself somewhat familiar.

I introduced myself to as many youth as I could and when I did, I explained I was there to help the staff with an evaluation of their space. Youth had a lot of questions about me, who I worked for, and what the project was. It helped to make me familiar so that when youth were asked to help as advisers, they had some understanding of who I was and what the goal of the project was. I also explained that I would be looking for advisers and interview participants in the near future.

Reviewing the protocol

On the day of my first adviser meeting, program staff helped me gather a group of advisers. The first thing that my youth advisers helped me with was reviewing my interview questions. I briefly explained the purpose of my research and distributed my draft questions.We read each of the questions and I asked some opening questions like, “would this question give me useful information?” or “will people understand what I’m asking here?”

The advisers corrected some basic terminology so that my questions would be more understandable to their peers, eliminated questions that would not lead to useful findings or were redundant, and added questions that I’d missed. They also let me know what topics would be off-limits for me to ask about. Their edits were substantial and I took every single one of their recommendations.

Next, my advisers reviewed the informed consent document that I had created. The made very concrete recommendations, such as highlighting the important text (they told me which section was the most important), and moving the important sections to the top of the page. To the youth, the information about the gift cards that participants would receive was very important and they wanted me to place that first in the document, so I did. They also told me that the document was too long to expect people to read it during the meeting and that I would have to use a verbal consent process as well as distributing the written document.
I also asked some very concrete questions about the structure of the meeting, like could I bring another person to take notes (the answer was no), should we use tent cards to put our names on, and should we use a written exercise as part of the interview. We also discussed which store’s gift cards were the most useful, weighing the availability of items that the youth needed with locations and accessibility of the stores. Based on their feedback, I switched fromTarget gift cards to CVS gift cards. The youth gave very useful feedback making me aware of issues that I would not have thought of and helping me plan an interview that would generate useful findings.

This meeting was also a good opportunity to learn some things about the space and plan for future meetings. I realized, for example, the limitations of the size of the room we were using, so that I could better plan the number of participants to have in future interviews.

Validating my findings

After I had conducted my group interviews, coded my findings, and generated some initial results, I asked for a second adviser meeting. I wanted some of the same youth to participate, but to also have some new faces. In the end, I had one person who was participating for the second time, and three people who were participating for the first time.
For this group, I presented each of the themes that I thought I had heard from the group interviews and asked them to react. Their feedback helped me understand how to prioritize my findings in my report and how to categorize findings into broader categories. I was also able to try out a framework that I though applied to the findings and get their reactions to confirm that the evidence fit that framework.

Conclusion and tips

The youth advisers were crucial to making this project successful. They made sure that I asked the right questions and did not make any important mis-steps during my interviews. In addition, they created some legitimacy for the project and were able to represent it to other youth well. Their participation also helped the program staff feel comfortable that what I was doing had been approved by youth and would be appropriate in their space.

Youth advisers do not have to be older or otherwise different than the youth who participate in the evaluation. In fact, they should represent as closely as possible your target group. Their ability to focus in meeting or the frequency with which they need to take breaks or tell jokes are good hints for you about how to structure your interviews.

The youth who participated as advisers were not included in group interviews and received compensation for their time in the form of $20 gift cards – the same amount that interview participants received.

Most importantly, remember that your youth advisers know this group better than you do. I took every piece of advice that my advisers gave me, when it came to how to structure meetings, how to ask questions, and what questions were off limits and that was crucial for creating a successful project.

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Tags: methods, program evaluation, youth