Involve Young People

Build Evidence:

Evaluating a program or project

Evaluation is research on a project, program or activity to find out what happened – indicators and evidence of success. Evaluation is best when young people are part of the process. It should be used to help build an evidence base of ‘what works’, to improve the program and organisation and demonstrate outcomes to funders and the community.

There are generally two main approaches to evaluation – summative and formative.

  • Summative evaluation – this approach summarises what happened, usually to justify your actions to a funding body or stakeholder. It generally sees evaluation as the final task to you do before you complete (or just after you complete) a project.  
  • Formative evaluation – this approach is part of an ongoing process of assessing change. It generally sees evaluation as something that happens at regular points in a program, laying the foundations for an evidence-based approach to all future work.

Want to guess which approach is best when involving young people? Yes, it’s formative evaluation.


An evaluation can make use of a number of different research methods, including:

  • Surveys (paper-based or online)
  • Interviews:
    • Structured interviews (where the interviewer only asks questions decided in advance)
    • Semi-structured interviews (where the interviewer asks some questions decided in advance and some questions decided during the interview)
    • Unstructured interviews (where the interviewer only asks questions decided during the interview)
  • Group interviews (these can also be structured, semi-structured or unstructured)
  • Focus groups (small or large group discussions)
  • Observation (watching what happens with a particular group or activity)

For more information about methods and putting them into practice, read the research with young people and consulting with young people articles.

Evaluation tips
  • Revisit aims and objectives

When you started planning your project or activity, you would have identified some aims and objectives to justify why things should happen. When starting your evaluation, it’s important to come back to these aims and objectives. An evaluation should make it clear whether or not these things were achieved, how this occurred – and if not, why not.

Remember, it will have been important to involve young people in setting these aims and objectives. Without knowing what young people wanted from the program how will you know if it was achieved? The things that young people themselves want from a program are also likely to be more meaningful indicators of success than the things someone else would like to see them achieve.

  • Keep it engaging

Try and keep evaluations fun and dynamic – no one enjoys dry and uninteresting evaluations!

Think creatively when designing the evaluation process. What other strategies could be used to answer the questions your evaluation is concerned with? Activities? Group discussion? How will your evaluation be engaging for young people with diverse skills and abilities?

  • Involve young people in the process

Evaluations don’t just have to be done to young people. It’s best to actually involve them in the evaluation process, so they are gathering evidence by asking their friends and peers about their experiences.

Remember, this takes:

  • Time - young people will need to time to learn, practice and carry out an evaluation tasks. Make sure the timeframe includes opportunities for young people to look at the evaluation findings. Keep the timeframe realistic – how long will young people be able to be involved?
  • Support – young people will need to be supported with training (especially in consent and research ethics) and resources. Which staff will be available to work with them? What equipment or refreshments might they need? Be aware of how much this might cost - you may need to apply for grants or other funding.
What you can do now

Geldens, P. and Randall, L. (2012), ‘Sounds like a plan: Engaging young people in research and community planning’, Research 101(a) Involving young people in research.

Powers, J. L. and Tiffany, J. S. (2006), ‘Engaging Youth in Participatory Research and Evaluation’, Journal of Public Health Management Practice, 2006, November (Suppl), S79–S87.

Randall, L. (2011), Is it working? Workshop delivered at the May 2011 Victorian Youth Participation Practice Network forum.

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