Chelsea Pallatino Trevelline, PhD, Senior Specialist, Research, Evaluation, and Learning

Youth engagement is trending in international development. While we have not moved the needle enough to dismantle all the power imbalances that youth face daily, we are making progress, in some areas more than others. One area where we, as a sector, often fall short in engaging youth is Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning (MERL). Opportunities for youth to partner on implementing MERL activities for the interventions that are meant to support them are few. This is something that needs to change.

“For some years now, Making Cents International has invested in partnering with youth to implement MERL activities. We will continue to do so, because the results are more accurate and it strengthens youth’s capacity to lead these activities in the future,” said Making Cents International President and CEO Timothy Nourse. “Currently, Making Cents projects in Serbia and Ukraine and one of our global activities are all implementing this strategy, and it is clearly paying off.”

Providing Guidance in Serbia

In Serbia, we partner with Grupa Izadji, a local youth-led NGO and the prime implementer of USAID’s Let’s Work Together Activity, which fosters economic empowerment of LGBTQI+ youth by providing workforce development, entrepreneurship, and leadership training to youth and youth-led businesses and by working with employers to establish DEI policies and reduce discrimination in workplaces and the broader economy.

Through the partnership this last year, we provided Grupa Izadji with technical assistance to develop the Activity Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Plan. Our MERL experts facilitated discussions with project leadership and consortium partners on key performance indicators and associated targets, advocated for the design of the Activity’s Learning Agenda, and coached Grupa Izadji through the process of developing Performance Indicator Reference Sheets for each indicator. In Year 2 of the Activity, which starts in October, our MERL experts will continue to work with Grupa Izadji’s MERL staff and project partners on executing the Learning Agenda and supporting follow-on research and assessments to inform programming.

Creating Scaffolding in Ukraine

For the Ukraine National Identity Through Youth (UNITY) Activity, we partnered with youth to undertake a Secondary Education Needs Assessment. This endeavor evaluated how the full-scale Russian invasion on Ukraine affected the learning experiences and outcomes of teachers and students in Ukraine’s secondary education system and examined what resources were needed to strengthen the learning environment while supporting the mental health and safety of students and teachers. We engaged young people in capacity-strengthening activities and ethical review processes. A unique scaffolding approach allowed youth research team members to gradually take the lead in data collection as they gained confidence and expertise.

Involving Youth Annually

Finally, on USAID’sYouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation (YP2LE) Activity, we engage youth in integrating Positive Youth Development evidence and best practices into youth programming to achieve sustainable change. The activity conducts an annual survey to better understand how its diverse learning network of USAID staff, implementing partners, NGOs, local government officials, researchers, youth-led and youth-serving organizations, and youth themselves are interacting with YP2LE’s events, products, and engagement opportunities to identify recommendations for future activities and approaches to meet the needs of these international youth development programming stakeholders. This year, youth worked side-by-side with seasoned MERL experts in the qualitative data collection during focus groups and key informant interviews.

Partnering for Success

Partnering with youth in MERL activities underscores the principle that we should “do nothing about them without them, “and sets us up for success by better addressing the evolving needs of all youth. Making Cents is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, so we will continue to involve youth in our MERL activities and advocate for meaningful youth engagement throughout our industry.

A person looking at a device  Description automatically generated

To ensure a locally led, youth-led, and Ukrainian-led approach, the research study for the UNITY Activity selected youth researchers to join the research team, with senior research specialists providing capacity-strengthening, quality assurance, technical support, and ensuring that do-no-harm and trauma-informed approaches were integrated into study activities. (Making Cents International)