Youth Participatory Evaluation: A Field in the Making
Sabo, Kim (2000).
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 112 pages. $27.00. ISBN 0787970743.
The objective of this slim but powerful volumeis to share field experience about how, when and why to includechildren in participatory evaluation. It emerges from rapidlyconverging methods in community development, participatory actionresearch and cognitive science and is underpinned by the need forgreater inclusivity across all domains. Sabo carefully sets the stagefor the contributions of leaders in the field by illustrating theoriesof community development through action research, participatoryevaluation, positive youth development and the emergence of youthparticipatory evaluation.
A group of leaders in the field of youth and child participation,including international researchers, evaluators and practitioners,gathered in June 1999 for the Children’s Participation in CommunitySettings conference, sponsored by Childwatch International ResearchNetwork and the Growing Up in Cities project of the MOST program ofUNESCO. Eventually three related conferences took place, culminatingwith a symposium on Youth Participation in Community Research andEvaluation in 2002. Each chapter in Sabo’s volume deals with one ormore arguments for including youth participation in evaluation madeduring this conference.
One key observation made in this book is that youth participationfundamentally changes relationships between youth, between adults, andbetween youth and adults, supporting all to perform in advance of theircurrent level of development (Sabo 2001). An important assertion isthat youth are best situated to collect data from other youth andtherefore might produce data that is more valid and reliable than thatcollected by adults. Further, this more effective collection of datalends itself to actively changing, modifying and adapting programswhile they are in process, a form of participatory action research.
One of the most significant contributions of this volume is tointroduce or remind international scholars and professionals about theseminal role of Lev Vygotsky in participatory research and practice. ARussian educator and psychologist, Vygotsky worked with children in the1930s. In some ways, this collection mirrors an intentional Vygotskianlearning environment, with the 2002 Youth Participation in CommunityResearch and Evaluation conference as a performance and participatoryevaluation tool, emerging from the collaborative research and practiceof international experts working with children today.
In the introductory article, “A Vygotskian Perspective on YouthParticipatory Evaluation,” Sabo quotes Vygotsky’s work on the Zone ofProximal Development (ZPD) to explain that “’What is in the zone ofproximal development today will be the actual developmental leveltomorrow– that is, what a child can do with assistance today she willbe able to do by herself tomorrow’” (1978, 87). Sabo cites herundergraduate mentor, Lois Holzman, a highly respected Vygotskianscholar and professional, who suggests that the ZPD is the continuouslychanging “distance” between being and becoming (2000, 88). As Vygotsky(1978) would say, people learn “by performing a head taller than theyare” (102).
Professionals in participatory research and practice recognize that themany ways group activities inform individual and group thinking areimportant characteristics of participation but difficult to measure.Vygotsky and his colleagues Luria and L’eontev developed CulturalHistorical Activity Theory (CHAT) or socio-cultural activity theory toexplain how collaborative performance, activity or learning leads todevelopment. In this theoretical perspective, collaborative practicesare situated within cultural and historical contexts. Rather than beingeasily parsed for further research into independent and dependentvariables, these influences overlap, fade into, engage with andsupercede each other over time to co-create and mutually constitutelearning environments. Barbara Rogoff (2003) suggests that humandevelopment is a process of people’s changing participation in thesocio-cultural activities of their communities. She theorizes thatchildren’s thinking tools are provided by culture and especiallythrough more skilled partners in the ZPD, suggesting that these toolsare both inherited and transformed by successive use in dynamiccultural changes.
Babbie (2004) describes the role of researcher as resource and suggeststhat those affected by participatory action research should beresponsible for its design (Whyte, Greenwood and Lazes 1991). In asimilar vein, Gaventa (1991) believes that research functions not onlyas way to produce knowledge but also as a tool for the education anddevelopment of consciousness as well as mobilization for action(121–122). Some researchers deplore more traditional research as“elitist,” reducing subjects to objects of research. Sabo’s collectiondemonstrates the ways that evaluation can simultaneously link communityand youth development in a reciprocal relationship. The call to allreflective practitioners (Schon 1991) is to consider the shift from anemphasis on product to a balance between product and process; toimagine the relationships between empowerment, democratization andparticipation; and to consciously and intentionally recognize theevolution from “dualistic epistemological arguments that pit practicalor utilization focused evaluators against the more transformative orempowerment-focused evaluation” (Sabo 2003, 8).
These issues thoughtfully construct a platform to spotlightbest practices in creating environments of increased or acceleratedyouth participation. In this volume, Sabo very effectively showcasesanswers to the question, “How do we design and produce environmentsthat support ongoing growth and change?”
Babbie, E. (2004). The Practice of Social Research. 10th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Gaventa, J. (1991). “Towards a Knowledge Democracy: Viewpointson Participatory Research in North America.” In O. Fals-Borda and M.A.Rahman, eds. Action and Knowledge: Breaking the Monopoly with Participatory Action-Research. New York: Apex Press, 121-131.
Holzman, Lois (2000). “Performance Psychology: An Untapped Resource for Educators.” Educational and Child Psychology 17(3): 86-103.
Rogoff, Barbara (2003). The Cultural Nature of Human Development. Oxford, UK: The Oxford University Press.
Sabo, Kim (2001). “The Benefits of Participatory Evaluation for Children and Youth.” PLA Notes. London: International Institute for Environment and Development.
Schon, D.A. (1991). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Whyte, W.F., D.J. Greenwood and P. Lazes (1991). “Participatory Action Research: Through Practice to Science in Social Research.” In F. Whyte, ed. Participatory Action Research. New York: Sage, 19-55.
Vygotsky, Lev S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
University of Colorado and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Barb Stuart is currently the Active CommunityEnvironment Coordinator for theColorado Department of Public Health and Environment's PhysicalActivity andNutrition initiative (COPAN). She is on the faculty of the DanielsCollege of Business at the University of Denver teaching highperformance and international management and on the faculty of theExecutive MBA of the American University in Sofia, Bulgaria. Sheis also a freelance consultant, always looking for her nextinternational engagement. Her research interests are in participatoryplanning, collaboration and consensus building and conflict resolution.Address: Barbara.Stuart@colorado.edu