What Do We Mean by Collaborative Research?
In addition to building evaluation capacity, there is a need within the youth media field to understand across multiple programs the effects on young people of participation in these programs. The Time Warner technical assistance project provided the opportunity to take initial steps toward outlining what such cross-site research might encompass and how individual programs might contribute to such an effort. To that end, the technical assistance team engaged the Time Warner youth media grantees in discussions on program impact and outcomes with the goal of creating a framework for future study. Subsequent work would involve refining a set of common research questions and data collection strategies and working collaboratively to analyze and disseminate findings. (This approach is an adaptation of National Science Foundation-funded work, documented in Lawrenz, F. & Huffman, D. (2003). How Can Multi-Site Evaluations be Participatory? American Journal of Evaluation, 24(4), 471-482.)
Practitioners Building the Field of Youth Media
Through a series of facilitated discussions, both face-to-face and via conference call, the Time Warner youth media grantees identified impact on youth participants and impact on audience as two key areas for further study, and decided to pursue the former.
Categories of impact
The group determined that youth participant outcomes fall into four categories that represent a kind of “fluency” in youth media that young people can apply in a range of settings (home, work, school, community, etc.) and which can be further honed and developed over their lifetime. The four categories are: 1) positive youth development; 2) technical and creative skills; 3) critical media analysis; and 4) civic engagement and activism. Time Warner grantees focus on each of these categories of outcomes to varying degrees. The following diagram represents their idea of the relationships between the four categories:
The group then began to identify the specific outcomes associated with each of the four categories. For example:
|Positive Youth Development||Technical & Creative Skills||Critical Media Analysis||Civic Engagement & Activism|
|Life skills, personal responsibility, confidence, assertiveness, open-mindedness||Hard skills with various media making tools and formats||Awareness of media landscape, what kind of media is out there, how they’re put together, how one consumes it||Finding your voice, representing oneself, being honest and authentic|
|Collaboration, teamwork, interpersonal skills||Awareness of how media works are put together||Look at media with a critical eye, sifting and analyzing messages||Work mirrors social issues and issues of personal significance|
|Risk-taking, being curious/curiosity||Writing skills, organizing ideas, interactive/virtual communication skills||How they consume media, not just how much-scale, content, how often?||Represent themselves, be honest, be authentic|
|Working in a diverse setting, learning to talk about differences||Comfort in interviewing and being interviewed||Finding one's place as a media maker||Developing perspective and taking actions based on one’s opinion/interests|
|Effective communication, confidence to express ideas in a group setting, able to give and receive feedback||Prioritizing tasks, operating on timeline, following through, self-direction||Exploring the impact of their own media on others||Aware of community needs and issues, relevant/contextual content, cultural literacy|
We also discussed how youth media programs promote a range of youth impacts that collectively can be referred to as "youth media fluency," and that these reveal themselves in a continuum of skill and learning. From this concept we could begin to identify the practices in youth media that result in the various outcomes along the continuum, and how they collectively lead to fluency.
The group also drafted some initial research questions that might form the basis of a collaborative research agenda, including:
- Q. What are the impacts of our programs on young people and how best can we communicate those impacts to others (funders, individuals, locally and nationally, etc.)?
- Q. How does the youth media field best convince funders of the value of its work and its impact on youth development in order to generate more sustainable funding and resources?
- Q. How do programs increase youth self-efficacy in their lives and develop human relationship skills, both of which will impact on their future career and social lives? What are the program activities or structures that influence this self-efficacy?
- Q. How do youth media projects foster collaborative learning skills and prepare youth to work with diverse groups of people?
- Q. How do youth media experiences impact participants' future career and higher education opportunities? How do these experiences influence how young people think about careers in general (awareness, attitude & interests, job search skills, etc.)? How effectively are participants being prepared for media careers?
- Q. How do youth media projects help young people see themselves as change agents? What successful programming methods help in this regard? How does seeing oneself as a change agent impact the "next steps" in one's life?
- Q. What impacts do youth media works have on various audiences? What impacts do these works have on the communities from which they emerge? How informative are youth media works, and how can they influence other youth in dealing with challenges and/or taking action? How effective are various dissemination efforts in supporting this influence?
Our discussions with these leaders in the youth media field have only been a first step in creating a truly common research agenda for the field. There are now a number of next step opportunities to advance this work that can take place on the local and national level. These include:
- Further developing and refining research questions, based on common themes
- Identifying how existing evaluation reports might address the questions
- Exploring how to identify common evaluation strategies across the field to further respond to the research questions