How do you measure the process of change that young people undergo as they engage with a program as part of that program’s monitoring and evaluation (M&E)? The Sharekna project in Tunisia uses youth video diaries to gain insight into the transformations that youth make as they develop resilience against external stresses like violent extremism. In this blog post, I provide five lessons from our Sharekna project to guide future M&E and research activities using or considering the use of youth video diaries.
What is the Sharekna project?
The Sharekna project to Support Youth and Empower Local Communities (Sharekna) is a USAID-funded pilot project implemented by FHI 360. The 28-month pilot project (November 2016 – March 2019) works in Tunisia to strengthen four communities’ resilience to economic, political and social stresses, including their vulnerability to violent extremist recruitment. The project is already underway in the first three communities, and we are about to launch activities in the fourth.
Firmly grounded in positive youth development principles, Sharekna’s theory of change includes a core assumption that youth should be engaged and empowered to identify and address stressors in their community (see also this recent blog post from Anne Salinas). Therefore, we knew that we could not successfully monitor Sharekna’s progress or hope to understand its outcomes unless youth were also actively engaged in our M&E process. After consultations within the team and with our technical experts, we decided that youth video diaries would provide in-depth insights into participant perceptions and would also complement the other, mostly quantitative, measurement tools we’re using with youth.
Methodology: how do youth video diaries work?
In February 2017, Sharekna selected 3-4 young people from each of the approximately 30 associated youth mappers in the three target communities in Tunisia; the four young women and six young men selected are ages 17-28 and are either still in school or unemployed.
Youth mappers are young people involved in the CYM process, a core component of Sharekna‘s programming. CYM is a youth-led data collection and analysis process whereby youth identify the aspirations, assets, needs, and factors of resilience and vulnerability in their community. CYM provides an opportunity for young people to be involved in positive activities, develop new skills and work together with adults.
Sharekna records youth video diaries with the 10 selected youth mappers around the time of key project milestones to assess reactions to and effects of those activities (for example, at the start of the CYM process and immediately after the CSAP workshops). At the time of publishing, 18 videos have been recorded. In general, the videos are short, (approximately 5 minutes each), semi-structured, informal conversations during which the youth are encouraged to reflect on three main questions:
- Looking back since the start of your engagement with Sharekna, can you think of changes or situations you’ve experienced that are significant?
- What are you looking forward to in the next month?
- Are there any issues or obstacles that need to be addressed?
The main questions are intended to prompt more in-depth questions that allow the youth mappers to steer the conversations. These conversations are then analyzed by our team to extract observations and detect emerging trends related to the interviewees’ engagement with the project and their perceptions of themselves, their peers, and community stakeholders over time. The findings and lessons learned from this qualitative analysis are used by Sharekna staff and local implementing partners to inform adjustments or enhancements of current or future project activities and to facilitate decision making.
Lessons to guide future work
This all likely sounds very interesting – and relatively straightforward – on paper. The reality, as always, is more complicated, but just as interesting. We faced a number of challenges while implementing this tool and at some points considered getting rid of it. We decided to stick with it for one simple reason: it is the right tool to use for our purposes on this project in this specific context.
If you are considering whether youth video diaries is the right qualitative data collection tool for you, we recommend you consider the following lessons from our team’s experience.
- Lesson #1:Invest in necessary resources.Make sure you have, and are willing to invest, the necessary resources.
In terms of equipment, you need a video-enabled camera – a good smartphone might do the job if necessary, but a video camera with a tripod would give you clearer and better-quality footage that could even be used in communication material later. While it might only take five minutes and a camera to record the video, you will need sufficient time to analyze the content from each diary, draw lessons, and then communicate them to the appropriate audiences. How much effort and time is needed depends on the purpose you define for the diaries and what type of analysis and reporting that is required to accomplish that purpose. In all cases, if you don’t have a dedicated team member (or members) with the time and skill set to do the analysis and the reporting, then this tool might become a burden.
- Lesson #2:Do no harm.Do no harm. Be clear and transparent about the participant selection process.
Sharekna decided to record video diaries with only 3-4 youth mappers per target community, which makes sense both in terms of the purpose we set for them (understanding processes and paths of change among the 10 youths participating in them) and resources (amount of time needed to record, analyze and share the findings from the videos at each milestone). But that meant that approximately 27 youth mappers were now excluded from an activity that ALL of them were interested in.
On one hand, our project is encouraging them and enabling them to be engaged, and on the other, we were telling them they cannot be engaged in this specific activity, and we had to manage this step very carefully by:
- Having a clear process and criteria for selecting the youth mappers to participate in the youth video diaries, and being transparent when communicating it to all.
- Working with partners to identify other ways to engage the remaining youth with using similar tools. For example, one partner recorded videos of all the youth mappers and used it during a workshop that brought them together with other community stakeholders.
- Ensuring that those selected aren’t receiving additional perks or advantages that aren’t made available to the other youth mappers. For example, no certificates will be distributed for taking part in this process.
- Lesson #3:Retain participation.Retain participation by making sure participants gain from the process.
For the data collected in the diaries to be useful for our purpose, we need the same 10 youth mappers to be engaged throughout the process to assess how the project activities have affected them. However, it can be very difficult to retain participation in a voluntary process unless we make sure that the participants’ own expectations from this process are met, and that while recording each video we are able to motivate them to come back for the next one. To do this we regularly highlight the value of their participation as a way to capture an important moment for them and the project. We also ensure that the questions asked are interesting and relevant to them specifically.
- Lesson #4:When it’s not working, tweak it.When it’s not working, tweak it!
We have made, and continue to make, several adjustments to how the tool is implemented and used. We changed its timing from monthly to periodically; we decided to record the videos ourselves rather than ask the partners to record them; and we adjusted its purpose to provide inputs for our summative evaluation (its original purpose focused more on informing program decision making as part of our formative evaluation process). Our specific changes are not as important here as the willingness to make changes when they are needed; the youth video diaries are a much more effective and useful tool to us now because of the tweaks we made along the way. It is also essential that changes be intentional, well-reasoned and carefully documented.
- Lesson #5:Identify ways to add value.Identify all the ways the tool can add value.
For our project, youth video diaries serve their own purpose and also complement the other M&E tools we are using, such as baseline and endline surveys. Youth video diaries is the only tool that allows us – with minimal burden on the participants – to get an in depth understanding of what changes, if any, these young people undergo throughout the project, and how they perceive these changes.
While using stories to understand processes of change is the main purpose of this tool, we’ve also discovered that it comes with some added advantages for our project: it amplifies youth voice (a key tenant of positive youth development) and gives youth another opportunity to express their thoughts in a medium that has proven to be particularly engaging for them.
Youth video diaries provide valuable insights into the changes that youth participants experience during the Sharekna project in Tunisia, along with their perspectives on the project and its effects in the community. We will continue to integrate the above lessons and others that come up as we implement our project, and hope that they will be useful to other teams as they consider youth video diaries for future qualitative monitoring and evaluation and research activities.
The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of Zouhair Bouallagui, the Developmental Evaluator of the Sharekna project. Bouallagui records the majority of the videos and leads the process of analyzing and reporting on the findings from them.