One of the key aims of Kick the Dust, our new initiative to support large-scale, ambitious partnerships between the heritage and youth sectors, is to ‘show the value of youth engagement with heritage’. Towards this, we have recruited Renaisi and the Centre for Youth Impact – both to conduct a programme-level evaluation, and to support the 12 projects that we’re supporting to ensure that their own work to shape, monitor and evaluate activities is of the highest possible quality.
Last month, our evaluators brought the 12 projects together for the first time; and here Hannah Keddie, one of our Dustkickers, shares her experiences from the day.
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“I've never really been into evaluation. At school, it was something that you dreaded at the end of a topic or after a school trip. Ticking a box or circling the most appropriate answer just never seemed very interesting. Today, like most people, I get surveys in the post, via email and even popping up on websites as I'm furiously trying to buy a last minute birthday or Christmas present. Sometimes as a service user, evaluation is just very inconvenient.
All that being said, evaluation has real value to organisations planning to achieve meaningful and transformational change. Projects like those the Kick the Dust grantees are embarking on have vast ambitions and outcomes that will be assessed over the next 4-5 years to monitor young people's engagement with heritage. Evaluation will also help determine how and why organisations are transforming structurally to involve young people at the heart of their practice. One of the reasons I was so keen to be involved in the Kick the Dust project was that it seeks to generate real change within the heritage sector; to start the process of ensuring that working with young people is not seen as an optional extra but as business as usual within heritage organisations. All of this was evident in the projects that I got to assess earlier on in my #Dustkickers journey.
Such enthusiasm and hunger for high quality and valuable youth engagement was similarly prominent when I actually got to meet Kick the Dust grantees in person. They came together in London from their bases across the country UK for the first time on 7 December to discuss how they will evaluate ir Kick the Dust projects will tackle the massive evaluation task that lies ahead.and to inform the programme-wide evaluation.
One of the first problems is how to go about setting up a strong framework. Theory of change - the practice of mapping out how activities lead to outcomes and impact- seems like a good fit for such diverse and dynamic youth-led projects. Working out shared outcomes though, as the grantees found out, is a lot harder. To make outcomes truly youth-led requires a lot of backwards mapping and a big reassessment of language and priorities. For instance, is creating a generation of young people who live, eat and sleep heritage all that important realistic? Is it more about using heritage as a vehicle to improve lives through skills building, training opportunities and experiences? Heritage as a vehicle rather than a destination? Not all young people's goals are the same and meaningful engagement with heritage should operate on a variety of levels to address that. This is something that organisations need to consider before they even begin to think about outcomes for youth-led projects.
Similarly, it's largely agreed that youth involvement with heritage organisations should be youth-led or strongly youth-focused in order to be truly meaningful. Young people who think they are going to be dictated to are much less likely to want to attend the heritage party that you're trying to invite them to. To be truly youth-led, organisations will need to rethink their governance structure and how their organisation responds to young people. How is this achieved? Is it simply a matter of staff training and exposure to young people 'in the flesh'?
I really enjoyed being a part of the evaluation discussion and relished the chance to chat with grantees about the projects that I've been reading about and advocating for over the last few months. What was even more exciting was seeing the genuine drive amongst this group of professionals to generate long-term change in the heritage sector and beyond through new and exciting partnerships.
I never thought I'd say it, but I can't wait to hear more about how grantees’ evaluations will measure and evidence the shift towards youth-led practice that has proven to be such a high priority for Kick the Dust project leaders.”