As the momentum for youth civic engagement in the US and internationally continues, the need to evaluate and demonstrate the impact of these activities on development becomes clearer, to encourage both greater and long-term investment in youth service.
Youth voluntary service programs exist in dozens of countries and communities around the world, and new programs and policy initiatives are currently being developed in many others, often with the help of international organizations like UNICEF, UN Volunteers/UNDP, and the International Youth Foundation. These programs engage many more young people in service while also making positive impacts on community development.
In the U.S., growing support by Congress and President Obama have resulted in the passage of the historic Kennedy Service America Act. At the same time a call was issued in the American Prospect for a national youth service program to enroll one million young Americans by the year 2020. And in 2007 the World Bank released its World Development Report focusing on young people and presenting youth civic engagement as a promising strategy for development.
As youth civic engagement is put forward as an important strategy for addressing community needs and current economic downturn, it is important to assess the impact of these activities on those intended goals. Demonstrating this positive impact can encourage further investment in engaging young people and help governments and international organizations make the case for engaging even more young people to meet development goals.
To address this need, the World Bank Children and Youth Unit and Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) organized a meeting last year at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, DC, bringing together researchers, policymakers and practitioners from the field of youth civic engagement and impact evaluation.
At the May 2008 meeting international experts assessed the existing research on the impact of youth service programs on young people, explored different evaluation methods, developed a draft evaluation framework, identified gaps in the research and developed a research agenda to address these gaps.
This meeting initiated a conversation among an international group of researchers, practitioners and policymakers about the evidence base for youth service as a strategy for positive youth development. The outcomes identified a need for continued research and development of evaluation frameworks and tools. A report summarizing the conclusions of that meeting (PDF) was recently published and is now available on the ICP and World Bank websites.
As this report shows, more work is needed on this issue. There is a lack of formal evaluations available, a multitude of conceptual, technical and operations challenges surrounding varied possible evaluation approaches and a need for greater research and investment in developing effective tools and frameworks for evaluation.
Following the meeting and completion of the report, ICP is conducting research to find information about successful evaluations, resources, and tools available for practitioners looking to evaluate the impact of their programs. (If you have or know of any resources related to this topic, please send them to me at hammelman[at]icicp[dot]org.) Those resources are being compiled on ICP’s website to enable practitioners worldwide to undertake evaluations of their programs and demonstrate the positive impact young people are having in their communities.