Practitioner voice in youth research, evaluation and program design
Dr Kathryn Seymour1, Carla Sargeant2, Professor Melissa Bull3
1Griffith Criminology Institute, Mt Gravatt, Australia
2Curtin University, Perth, Australia
3Queensland University of Technology Centre for Justice, Brisbane, Australia
Across the non-government and the not-for-profit sectors there is a growing awareness of the need to develop evidence-based practice. To fulfil expectations linked to external funding youth organisations are under increasing pressure to operate in self-reflexive ways, collecting data and ultimately engaging in outcomes-based measurement, evaluation, and research. This shift has come with challenges especially for non-government organisations that have limited budgets and access to expertise. There is a need for new, practical solutions and low-cost strategies that can deliver the evidence required to support program design and delivery and acquit funding. While in the academy there is a growing recognition of experience as expertise, in youth sector research practitioner insight is an often overlooked resource that help can address this need.
This paper is the product of a collaboration between a practitioner working with young people in disadvantaged communities and two scholars, one working inside and the other outside the academy. We present a practical road map of ways of working together and discuss how practitioner voice can be a key component of successful design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of evidence-based programs, policy, and practice. Our aim is to explore the how and why of a meaningful practitioner and researcher collaboration pathway. That pathway can help overcome challenges in measuring complex and highly contextual program outcomes and the reluctance of vulnerable youth, families, and communities to engage in data provision and research activity. We argue that practitioners bring a wealth of anecdotal and experiential knowledge to the table including place-based knowledge around current community practice and gaps/needs, program fit and a deep understanding about young people and community. We conclude by outlining key challenges and opportunities for successful practitioner and researcher collaboration.
Kathryn is a social scientist specialising in youth development program design and strengths-based practice. She obtained her PhD titled ‘Deficits or Strengths? Re-conceptualising Youth Development Program Practice’ from Griffith University in 2015. For the last 5 years she has worked in the NGO sector on youth program and service development, outcomes measurement and evaluation. She is the author of Good Practice Principles for Youth Development Organisations and has edited a special issue of the Queensland Review devoted to the global and practical implications of youth development. Her work is underpinned by a commitment to working in participatory and collaborative ways.