Equitable evaluation: elevating participant voices in youth development program evaluation

In this study, I center participants as expert evaluators in the assessment of youth programming offered by Step Up, a youth development and mentorship program that seeks to support girls from under-resourced communities. Using qualitative interviews with 28 Step Up alumnae, this research evaluates the outcomes and impacts of Step Up programming on teen perceptions of self and on goals. Additionally these interviews provided a platform for alumnae to highlight their experiences and assessment of the program. The findings indicate that Step Up programs are mostly aligned with girl-centric youth program best practices and provide teens opportunities to explore identity through skill efficacy, find belonging by expanding part of the Step Up community, and cultivate agency by expressing their voice within Step Up spaces. While overall outcomes and impacts were favorable, giving alumnae the opportunity to serve in the role of evaluators illuminated some structural inequities that were replicated within the program structure and content. As a way to further improve program effectiveness, alumnae recommended diversifying mentor representation, integrating more relevant curricular content, and adding formalized support for participants outside of traditional Step Up spaces.