‘How was your experience of youth group today?’ Evaluating Youth work in an evaluation culture

‘How was your experience in Tescos today’

‘please tell us how you feel about the cleanliness of the toilets today’

‘share your experiences of the airport security today’

‘your opinion matters to us’

How satisfied were you with your experience today?

In case you haven’t noticed, its as if we’re living in a culture where opinions and where evaluation is all around us. I was travelling to Canada last week, and at each airport (3, Newcastle, Heathrow, Montreal) I had the option to rate the toilets, the security, the check in experience, and virtually in real time on screens I could see the current percentage of how people felt about their toilet/security/check in experience. It’s the same with Google maps, though I do quite enjoy rating my restaurant or hotel experiences, maybe on the hope of getting free food or hotels, but its good to share a photo or comment where its due. And if you want a laugh, some of the google reviews of churches are funny. But they’re often short.

Image result for how was your experience

But it really does feel as though we’re living in an age that’s saturated by evaluation. Our opinion matters.

But it wasn’t ever the same was it, and certainly not real time push button evaluations.

So the questions this pose for me are; what does it feel like when so much of culture is open to evaluation – when some isn’t, and secondly – what might it be like to grow up as a young person in a culture that is almost at evaluation saturation?

Please rate your experience of church today’

‘your youth group really appreciates your views- do give us a rtating’

‘share how the youth club made you feel and leave a comment so that we can improve our service to you’  

These sound awful in a way. And we might baulk at churches, youth groups or clubs aligning themselves in a service provision/entertainment way – but when a lot of the time, relevancy and attraction (rather than meaning/sacred/participation) are the drivers for an attendance, then it could be easy to forgive those who attend for thinking theyre being short changed because they aren’t given an opportunity to rate the sermon/games/activities/coffee/chat/atmosphere/friendliness – in a way that the same people can give an opinion on their travel, school or shop experiences. Yet Evaluation culture is all around, and whilst for some people it might be a relief not to have to give an opinion of everything – having no mechanism for giving an opinion, that is validated and sought for, means that there is no response, no way of sharing reflection, that doesn’t seem like wingeing in the coffee time, or over lunch a few hours later. Having no mechanism, apart from not being present – ie walking with your feet – seems to be reactionary and possibly avoidable.

I once made the mistake in one youthgroup a number of years ago, of giving out a 3 page end of term questionnaire. Don’t do this. It really wasn’t a good idea, but I was full of the dreams and ideals of a college course. And trying to see what young people thought of their youth group sessions of 3 months previous really wasn’t a good idea, and I took too seriously the requirmnent to do an evaluation for an essay, too much. I guess that’s why they have push button instant evaluation in the airport toilets, no one really wants to fill in a survey then. Evaluation has to be appropriate. And not having any – is that really an option?

But what does it say when an organisation doesn’t have any mechanism for this, when so many others do, and are open for it- peoples opinions are valued in airport toilets – but not in churches – is sanitation a place where peoples opinions are more important than sacred?

I am about to run a session on developing evaluation in detached youthwork, and it crossed my mind, the extent to which young people have grown up in an evaluation culture – where so many things in their lives have   an opportunity to give an opinion. Though, if shops, cinema, travel, toilets (!) are all open for evaluation – do young people have the same afforded to them when it comes to things that matter? Can they rate the maths lesson as they leave, or the careers talk, or even, rating how uncomfortable parents evening was for them – however there are other aspects of a young persons life that are important, such as faith, as voluntary groups – and these can offer scant opportunities for a response or opinion. It could be argued that young peoples attendance and achievement is more important than whether they enjoy what they’re doing at church, swimming club or scouts – but if google is valuing young peoples opinions (for whatever reason) then surely it makes some sense that if evaluation culture is part of a young persons life then the youth organisations might acknowledge and realise this so that they can hear from young people to. And, don’t use an end of term survey… a few tips for evaluating:

  1. Make it relevant to the audience and appropriate to the group
  2. Keep it concise and easy to do – single words/emoticons/post its – and – especially in conversations – note any feedback or comments there too!
  3. Realise the power dynamic – young people won’t want to be honest to offend you or challenge the relationship – so bear this in mind
  4. Use the information for reflection and to have a conversation with young people – to create new from within- and not just kept in a cupboard or filed away.
  5. Its an opportunity for young people voice to be heard, value and treasure it!

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