Children and Young People in Evaluation

 

By Iulia Costache & Graham Spacey
20 February, 2024

Much of the work we do at inFocus involves projects, programmes and interventions that are directed at, or involve, children. In this blog we outline our participatory approach which advocates for the inclusion of children in evaluations and moves beyond traditional notions of involvement and consultation to involvement, collaboration and empowerment.

Why involve children in evaluation?

As per Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on The Rights of the Child (1989), we recognise the right of the child to have an opinion and influence the decisions adults make on their behalf. However, besides having the right to ‘feedback’, it is increasingly considered good practice in the world of community development to involve children in evaluation, particularly when the programmes are meant to benefit them and especially if they are the intended principal beneficiaries1. Without directly hearing the valuable insights and views that children can provide, it is difficult to gauge how programmes work or how they are experienced by end users2.

Children’s participation in evaluation is still often hindered by political and economic barriers, long-lived practices, cultures and attitudes3. Children being perceived as vulnerable and incapable is one example of the unconscious and unchallenged beliefs that can lead to their exclusion from the evaluation process.

Depending on their age, gender, disabilities, background and socio-economic status, some children may find it even harder to participate. Experts have also expressed concern that even in the cases where there are chances for children to be heard, that the standard of their participation can often be poor and tokenistic.

Ways of involving children in the evaluation process

So, what do we mean by inclusion in an evaluation? Involving children in the evaluation process doesn’t have to be only limited to collecting data on their experiences and perspectives. Children can be involved at every stage of the evaluation process and there are different levels to their involvement.

To break this down further and exemplify how this can be implemented practically on all levels, we use the Spectrum of Public Participation (2018), a model created by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). The table below outlines each step alongside an example of how inFocus might implement it to facilitate the participation of children within an evaluation.

As always, the evaluation process should be as inclusive as possible and avoid any discrimination based on race, sex, gender, age, sexual identity and religion. It is important to understand the environment and context that children may be coming from and ensure that children’s participation in evaluations happens in a safe and secure place where they can be themselves.

When designing evaluation processes that involve children, the ages and development stages of any children involved should be considered. Any language used in evaluative tools should be easy to understand, but not patronising. Research suggests that children ages 8 and up can complete surveys, so ensure that the tools you develop are accessible to children. Consider the needs of Special Educational Needs (SEN) students when developing tools and processes.

Level What Is It? What's an Example?

Providing children with details about the programme and evaluation they are a part of.
A flyer for parents and children is sent home with details of how the school policy will change following a programme.

Asking children to provide feedback for the purposes of improving the programme.
Children are asked for their feedback on a programme via a survey, asking them how they would improve the service.

Involving children in participatory data collection processes.
Children are trained on conducting short interviews with their peers, under the guidance of an evaluator on changes that have occurred because of the programme.

Involving children in the development of evaluation tools, such as Theory of Change, data collection tools, indicators and feeding into findings (co-analysis).
Children are provided with a list of indicators to measure the success of the programme and asked to rank them in order of priority.

Empowering children to made decisions on the tools, processes and results of the evaluation.
Children brainstorm ideas about what data would be useful to collect from their peers participating in a programme, in a workshop-style setting and/or help create recommendations based upon the findings of the evaluation.

There should be some element of reciprocity within the evaluation. One way to do this is to ensure that the data collection processes are fun and engaging. Some research also suggests that older children (e.g. ages 10-14) are more likely to participate in research when provided with incentives.

Unique considerations of including children in evaluation

All evaluations are unique. Factors such as project context, purpose, and access all influence the extent of possible involvement. There are some drawbacks to including children in evaluation and these can present obstacles if not carefully considered and mitigated.

  • Additional cost, time and resources may be required, as well as staff that are specially trained in working with children to ensure that the evaluation processes run smoothly.
  • The withdrawal of consent at any time is also a factor. Whilst a school and/ or parent may give consent, both children and parents/ guardians must provide informed consent before taking part of the programme – this is often a legal requirement. In some cases where schools or other institutions are involved, consent can be given in loco-parentis, however parents and legal guardians can still withdraw consent. And whilst the school and parent/ guardian may have given consent, the child may not give theirs or withdraw it at any stage, which must be respected. Throughout the programme children should be reminded that their participation is voluntary, and that they can choose to opt out of any activities in which they do not wish to participate.
  • All personal data collection must meet GDPR requirements and both parents/ guardians and children should be told how their data will be used. Confidentiality and anonymity should also be considered and made clear to the respondents.
  • Safeguarding measures need to be in place to ensure child protection measures are maintained. A criminal record check and vetting to work with children is needed. Adherence to other (and sometimes multiple) safeguarding measures set by the organisation(s) you are working with is necessary. In most cases this is standard practice, but additional safeguarding measures may be in place for children more likely to be at risk or are accessed through gatekeepers, such as schools, care homes, or other youth institutions.
  • Additional obstacles, such as being able to get time off from school, may prevent children from taking part in evaluation.

Benefits of including children in evaluation

The benefits of including children in evaluation can be significant and when factored into a project or programme, can even enhance or expand the intended impact an intervention can make.

  • Children will develop skills such as: communication, problem-solving, negotiation, listening to others and cooperation, among others.
  • It provides children with a sense of agency in their lives by fostering a sense of empowerment and ownership. It can make children more likely to be interested and commit to something if they feel like they can influence it.
  • It can increase their self-esteem and self-belief as they learn how to find their voice and speak up for themselves.
  • It can introduce children to democratic principles, helping them understand their own rights.
  • It can protect children from harm. Encouraging children to voice their concerns, informing them and providing them with safe and accessible ways of challenging harm can empower them to protect themselves.

However, it’s not just children that benefit from being included in evaluations. Children can provide valuable feedback that adults can often overlook. They are experts in their own lives. Children can offer unique perspectives about their experiences, create knowledge and help construct meaning.

Giving children a platform to voice their opinions, share their stories and have an influence can show them that they are important members of their communities. It breaks down power imbalances as their views are valued equally. Their inclusion helps shape the tools and processes to be more engaging for them. Ultimately, the recommendations and actions derived from the learning and insight gathered from children can go on to improve services and interventions and make them more child-appropriate and child oriented.

Sources:

1MONITORING AND EVALUATING WITH CHILDREN (A short guide), Grazyna Bonati, ® Plan Togo, June 2006.

2Goldsworthy, K. (2023) Involving children in evaluation.

3A Toolkit for Monitoring and Evaluating CHILDREN’S Participation, Booklet 1 – Introduction (2014), Lansdown, G and O’Kane, C; Save the Children Fund.