Reflections and Learning


Reflections are very significant to learning. Taking time out for reflecting on past activities, analysing those activities, and generating insights for the next action is a cyclical process and holds critical importance in youth-led action research work. Conducting and documenting these reflections exercises systematically, and further integrating them in the project cycle is an integral part of YAR.

It is significant that facilitators develop and integrate program evaluation frameworks within the programme itself. The frameworks should be participatory, based on reflective-learning practices, (ADD COMMA) and capture the overall impact of the program. It is also crucial to involve all the stakeholders in the assessment and learning processes as this will help to empower and sustain meaningful partnerships.

In the YAR initiative, for instance, youth development, in-depth documentation of ground realities, and quality of advocacy efforts have been identified as the main goals. The outcomes are evaluated against these set goals.

Youth-led action research is an innovative approach to research and knowledge production practices. It aims to document authentic realities from the perspective of the marginalised youth. It also attempts to transform the lives of the young people who are involved in the research process. The larger aim of the process is to use community knowledge for advocacy and community action work and contribute to positive changes in the communities.

Here are a few participatory evaluation tools which you can use. It is important to contextualize and tailor them to suit the needs of your programme and its objectives:

1.  Peer review and learning exchange meetings

Well-planned, periodic peer review meetings are useful in brainstorming and identifying which project areas are working well and which need improvement. Involving all major stakeholders and creating comfortable spaces for open and honest dialogues are key aspects to keep in mind. An effective session design and a skilled facilitator are essential for such gatherings.

At ASPBAE, in the case of YAR, youth researchers and mentors are invited to participate in regional-level learning exchange meetings that often serve as a space for sharing learnings, resources, and building networks. In 2017, the regional meeting of YAR partners was organised in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where youth researchers and their mentors from India, Indonesia, and the Philippines shared best practices. The youth mentors described the mentoring processes and insights gained while individually and collectively working with youth participants, and other stakeholders such as parents, communities, and government authorities.

Since the YAR was primarily carried by and with marginalised youth, mostly young girls and women, their transformation was an important outcome. Participants also shared various experiences linked to their notions of empowerment.

 a) Increased self-confidence
Many girls reported having gained confidence through the process of training, fieldwork, and participation in meetings. For most of them, the research also granted them their first opportunity to explore their villages and communities. Some began to voice their views and opinions at home and in community meetings. The process also had several allied impacts. More girls continued their school education, enrolled in vocational courses and jobs which were far from their villages, and represented the voices of other girls in public platforms.

b) Active Participation
In addition to their trajectories, youth researchers have also collaborated with different community members and stakeholders, which in turn, has led to collective growth. In this process, they have created spaces for reflection, learning, and social action. The youth researchers also began to organise themselves in different forms to question authority and steer action. In turn, they become conscious and concerned citizens.

c) Empowerment
Enhanced self-esteem and individuals’ ability to negotiate for their rights are significant aspects of youth empowerment. Many girls from ASPBAE’s partner and member organisations have been able to choose their educational courses; say no to early marriages; demand equal wages and, argue for their rights in village meetings because of their increased awareness and training. The new identity of ‘researcher’ has helped uplift and reimagine one’s role in the family and larger community.  

2. Self-reported changes

Self-documented changes using creative tools such as autobiographies, photo essays, and video blogs are great examples of chronicling changes in the most genuine form. Pre- and post project reporting around core areas must be documented, compared, and analysed to understand the various impacts. Stories are always powerful narratives of the change process.

One of ASPBAE’s members in India, Abhivyakti Media for Development, launched a trimester magazine in the Marathi language. The magazine, named Shodhini, includes stories and articles written by young female researchers. It has been appreciated by parents, community members, and other girls in the villages.

3. The Most Significant Change (MSC) technique

It is a participatory and qualitative tool of monitoring and evaluation developed by Rick Davis. This technique is based on the collection and systematic selection of change stories from the ground. It analyses narratives of change and decides which of these narratives is the most significant and why; helping to enhance the areas which are beneficial in the communities. The tool helps to document the intended and unintended impacts of the project. There are three basic stages in using MSC:

  • Determining the types of stories that should be collected
  • Gathering stories and deciding which of them are the most significant and why
  • Sharing the stories along with a discussion of why they were thought important with various stakeholders. This helps in collective learning and knowing what is valued, which further helps in building a collective vision and quality standards.

Process: It generally starts with requesting field staff to share change stories from stakeholders, highlighting the most significant change which has occurred due to the project initiative along with their reasons. The purpose of gathering MSC stories is to understand who did what, when, and why, highlighting why the event was so crucial. Many stories are then shared up the chain and each one of them is examined at multiple levels until only one story is selected. The final story is representational, real which is reviewed, approved, and selected by the diverse stakeholders.

Members and partners can use this excellent tool for assessing the impact of youth-led action initiative in their respective communities. The process generates valuable data on the project cycle and enables the team members.

The unique application of MSC Technique: Breakthrough Trust is using Video Documentaries to detail stories of change and have found this to be a very powerful way of sharing grassroots’ narratives of change. Read More

For more readings and resources, Read More

In the youth-led action initiative, stakeholders’ groups can review their research projects and their various components systematically, sharing their experiences, concerns, and ideas. With the help of facilitators and note-takers, the group can document the important changes and priority areas where more attention is required.

For more information, please read here

Think before you Research

Conducting youth-led action research in marginalised communities can be very challenging, particularly in a situation where the research initiatives try to understand and change existing power relations in society.

It is important to remember that conducting research, deliberations, reading, and writing are part of socio-economic privileges which are not easily available to youth who belong to marginalised communities. Hence, careful planning and action need to be taken to create an equal playing field. Hand-holding sessions, guidance, and mentoring camps will certainly help in boosting the confidence of the young researchers and also to provide support to their practical difficulties. Moreover, learning community identity can be strengthened through camps that can play the role of support groups both during and after the research process.

Stories from the Ground: India

Youth researchers from India set forth on a journey to understand the experiences of education through the lens of other girls in the community. The research process was challenging because of two main reasons: firstly, it attempted to challenge the existing patriarchal norms and stereotypes, and secondly, it was carried out by marginalised young girls who were already busy with school, household, and farm activities. Here are a few major challenges:

  • 1. Dropouts due to parental anxiety and insecurity – There was a high number of dropouts due to the anxiety of parents about their daughters’ safety. The idea of their daughters attending the residential workshops in the city or walking all over the village with a pen and paper in their hand was leading them to fall prey to the stereotype that girls are not meant to do all this. They would restrict their daughters from participating in this research. There were Some girls could not attend the residential training in the city but were actively engaged in the fieldwork of research in their villages. To tackle all these issues, it was important to establish a good relationship with the parents and gain their trust by keeping them informed about what their daughters are doing. Parents' meetings in villages were organised where mentors can engage the parents in the research activities.
  • 2. The conflict between survival needs and research work: Some of the Shodhinis were school-going, while some were school drop outs who worked on daily wages in the farms or an industrial setting. As for many families, the daily wage was the major source of income and girls had to support their parents in peak seasons. Many Shodhinis faced the dilemma of choosing between conducting the field research work and earning a livelihood for their families. This conflict proved to be another major reason for Shodhinis to drop out and choose labour work over research.
  • 3. Restrictions on girls’ mobility: As a part of a field-based research, the Shodhinis had to walk around the village to collect data, meet the parents of other girls and facilitate dialogues with local officials. Therefore, the restrictions on girl’s mobility in the villages were a major hurdle in fieldwork. Due to schools and farm work, the night was the only time suitable to meet other girls in the village, but the girls going out of the house at night was not acceptable. Despite the opposition of the villagers and the family, Shodhinis dared to step out at night and completed the work. Other girls too were inspired by this and started negotiating with their parents to go out with Shodhinis.
  • 4. Lack of literacy and limited numerical skills: Semi-literate or illiterate girls struggled in form filling, counting, and report writing work. However, as the process continued, they moved faster and were able to identify spaces where they can contribute more, like listening to written reports and suggesting changes. Some Shodhinis asked pertinent questions about the format of percentage or the grouping indicators, enabling deeper thinking on traditional processes and formats, which have been used for many long years.
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training-timor-leste YAR Training in Timor Leste - March 2019

To tackle these challenges and lend support to the researchers, we held four residential workshops and many handholding community meetings throughout the process. We remained in regular contact with the researchers, had frequent group meetings, and conducted regular visits to the villages to meet the Shodhinis and their parents. These meetings provided valuable insights into their situations and helped in revising or adjusting plans according to their needs. We realised that these hand-holding sessions were very beneficial for building confidence, negotiating with the families, and sustaining the researchers in the project.

In Timor-Leste

In Timor-Leste, 18 youth leaders from five municipalities - Ainaro, Aileu, Ermera, Liquiça, and Bobonaro - participated in the five-day training conducted by ASPBAE and CSEP in the country’s capital, Dili. The youth leaders were selected by non-government organisations (NGOs), all members of CSEP, located in the municipalities from where the youth leaders belong to. During the training, the youth participants expressed that the villages where they come from have several local resources that can be developed into opportunities, such as cultural and religious tourism, as their municipalities are endowed with high mountain views, beaches, lakes, and waterfalls. However, there are also several factors that prove challenging for their education and development.

At the opening of the YAR training, Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion (Timor-Leste), Maria Jose da Fonseca Monteiro de Jesus, emphasised the importance of the training for marginalised youth as it would be beneficial for the government to have proper data on their situation related to education, gender, health, and other issues. The Secretary also stated that the government would be able to formulate appropriate policies, undertake adequate planning, and initiate and implement relevant programmes to respond to the issues and findings raised by the YAR report. She further committed her willingness to share the findings and recommendations of the study with other line ministries. She congratulated and appreciated the partnership between CSEP and ASPBAE in building leadership capacities of marginalised youth in Timor-Leste.



As part of their Youth-Led Action Research (YAR) programme, Kolisen blong Leftemap Edukesen (KoBLE) in Vanuatu in joint partnership with ASPBAE identified and trained youth from Port Vila and rural Efate to research on factors preventing their greater access to and participation in literacy, basic and higher education, basic skills programmes, and other services in their communities.

The young research team designed a questionnaire and administered it to 121 youth aged between 16-31 years of varying socio-economic status, and cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The final analysis made use of thematic analysis, data reduction, and data display techniques to finalise the key findings of the study.

The survey found that 13.2% of respondents hadn’t completed primary education (Year 6), representing a higher out-of-school rate than the national government 2018 figure (8%). The same is true for secondary education – 83.5% of respondents hadn’t completed Year 12 compared to the 58% out-of-school rate at the national level. The predominant reason (59% of respondents) for leaving school was financial constraints, such as the inability of families to pay fees requested by schools. After leaving school, only 53% of youth respondents accessed training opportunities, the majority of which were non-formal and non-accredited.

In terms of livelihoods, the survey found that only 25.6% of youth respondents held formal employment such as in tourism, retail, and hospitality businesses, and 24% were self-employed, running their micro and small businesses. The others were either unemployed, studying, or engaged in subsistence agriculture and domestic duties.

Based on their in-depth exploration, the group also furnished a set of recommendations for the concerned stakeholders. This included the need to make education free by ensuring that school grants are adequate for schools to operate without charging parents extra fees. In addition, increase opportunities in the Post-School Education and Training sector that effectively target marginalised communities, creating pathways into TVET or formal tertiary education; invest in Regional Training Center (RTC) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to ensure that children and young people are prepared for a sustainable living on their land, running a small business, or able to find work in the formal sector.