5.5 Where do we go from here?
The Global Youth Economic Opportunities field has witnessed a categorical shift in the quality and rigor of evaluation. Donor support of rigorous evaluation and results-sharing from evaluations, has contributed to a much more nuanced understanding of the state of the field. Three years ago, rigorous evaluations of youth economic opportunity programs were scarce to non-existent. Now, more and more organizations, or coalitions of organizations, are undertaking rigorous impact evaluations that fuel program learning and enhance the evidence base. Final results of multi-year studies are now being shared while others are in the pipeline toward completion. These advances are especially evident in programming targeted to adolescent girls and young women. Advocacy and donor efforts on behalf of this population fuel a robust evidence base in this sector. Across all sectors, mixed methods approaches produce richer evaluations that answer research questions in deeper and more thoughtful ways.
As the knowledge base deepens, members of the field now see an increased need for knowledge management, closing the feedback loop between evaluation and learning. More needs to be done. Participants at the 2012 GYEOC identified several important next steps for the field. They include:
- Adapting M&E to conflict-affected situations. Rigorous evaluations are not always possible in conflict-affected situations which limits the possibility of long-term evaluation.
- Learning from evaluation: Two ideas were generated about how the field can better link evaluation assessment to program learning. First, participants called for a meta-analysis of impact assessments across organizations and donors in the field that could illuminate what works or doesn’t work in different contexts. Though they acknowledged the challenges associated with such an endeavor, they noted its necessity. Second, participants acknowledged the need for enhanced learning at the organizational level to feed into better program design. They discussed a divide between what the organization might want to understand versus what a donor might insist upon. They also discussed fomenting a culture of learning within NGOs that allows practitioners to ground broader issues of youth unemployment in practical learning from the field.
- Operationalizing theory of change into M&E systems. Participants discussed the importance of theories of change in designing M&E systems. M&E systems lacking the critical conceptual component of a theory of change will be limited in effectiveness. They suggested a series of steps that organizations should consider: (1) identify a theory of change, (2) map out causal model between interventions and outcomes, (3) determine activities, and (4) develop methods.