8 tricks to engage children in evaluation

Children play an important role in community building projects. However they are not always heard by evaluators. Sometimes it's because evaluators are negligent. Other times it's due to scarce resources. Most of the times is the lack of knowledge and experience in applying adjusted evaluation tools that keep us away from listening to children. 

Kids are a valuable source of information in an evaluation process. Once you enter in their world and realize how honest they can be you access valuable data. Children mirror their community's thinking.

Over the years I had several experiences engaging children in participatory processes. From my inicial failures I learned valuable lessons, which I would like to share with you:


(1) Prioritize

Capturing kids attention for long periods is almost impossible. Make sure that you pick one or two evaluation questions/goals to discuss and focus the engagement on those priorities. Do not expect to explore everything with the children. If you make a good job exploring two topics they might want to play with you forever and there you have the chance to know everything about them!


(2) Read from their espontanious answers

The best way to learn from children is to create an open environment and learn from their spontaneous thinking. Kids start talking about issues out of "nothing" and change subjects very quickly. It's all about what comes to their mind first. So:

  • First, make sure you record the interview or focus group, otherwise you will have troubles memorizing everything;
  • Second, use the "degree of spontaneity" with which they approach a project output or outcome as a materiality indicator.
  • Third, in case you are talking to an adult person and her/his son is around. Never miss the chance to engage the child! Check out this drawing that kids were doing spontaniously while we were talking about the project with their parents. This means that they are aware that the project includes the production of fish and chickens. Notice that the level of detail with which they draw the fish tanks shows that they have probably visited the project. In this drawing the goats are missing. From this drawing we then discovered that for children chicken and fish are the most friendly animals.


(3) Bring in real and palpable elements

The more children can visualize, touch, smell, the object the better. If they can see a picture or object related to what you're talking about they will understand much better what you're saying. Don't expect this tribe to understand your "adultish non-creative language". In my last project I literally asked them to walk me through the project. We have played around, while they pretend to be journalists. See the video we did together!


Based on the information that this children described during the  video we developed a KAP survey (Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices) to assess how many new things these kids learned about farming and animals, when compared to children who never visited the project. 


(4) Make it playful

The last thing you want is to make children feel judged or scared. With kids you always want to make them feel safe. A very easy way to go is through drawings. Rare are the children that reject a drawing opportunity. This is a picture of us drawing together. Here we used a technique I learned from Save the Children. It is called the body map! There are many ways to play around it! I highly advise you to check Save the Children's toolkit for  PARTICIPATORY RESEARCH AND EVALUATION WITH CHILDREN,YOUNG PEOPLE AND ADULTS.



(5) Agree on codes

Children can be very protective and shy if they feel that their words can be harmful to others. Creating a language that only you and they know helps them trust you and feel safer. One way to achieve this is through art work. Attributing meaning to colors or drawings can be really powerful. E.g: ask them to pick colors according to how they feel. Use warm colors for happiness and dark colors for unhappiness. You can even build an emotions color scale: red very happy; orange happy; yellow - a little bit happy; green - a little bit unhappy; blue - unhappy; violet - very unhappy.


(6) Bring food with you

You know how kids love Christmas don't you? They love those who care about them, they love to be surprised. Take cookies and gums with you to make a good start of the conversation. Healthier options also work very well. They have a good response to fruits if you prepare them and mix fruits with different colors.


(7) Get your imagination out of the closet

Go back to the roots. I always think that the success of a toy is directly related to the numbers of stories and functions you can derive from it. Play with their ideas around, create different characters. Talk about none-sense stuff if needed, before you can get their attention.


(8) Offer them a free gift

Smile, love them and no matter what they do don't show any signs of anger. You can set you're own rules and boundaries, but the moment you try to manipulate them decreasing the amount of love you feel for them you have lost the game.