Heather Champion, a senior faculty member with CCL’s Evaluation Center, recently completed an evaluation of Youth LINKS, a virtual cultural exchange program between youth in the United States and Afghanistan. Global Nomads Group, a U.S. nonprofit, in collaboration with the School of Leadership Afghanistan, hosted the program.
Global Nomads Group is an international NGO whose mission is to foster dialogue and understanding among the world’s youth.
The focus groups included the use of Visual Explorer, a tool developed by the Center for Creative Leadership designed to support collaborative, creative conversations in a wide variety of situations to help develop ideas and insights into useful dialogue. Nine questions were asked to assess the impact they experienced from participating in the program. Also assessed were the extent to which they discussed the program with other students, family, and other community members; what they learned about the US/Afghanistan; … and factors that supported and barriers that prevented greater impact.
Six middle and high schools from a cross the U.S. were paired with six middle and high schools in Afghanistan.
The evaluation included a survey of the students, interviews with the teachers who facilitated the program at each school and focus groups with the students in both the U.S. and Afghanistan. A local evaluator implemented the evaluation in Afghanistan. Students participated in a nine-month curriculum that focused on cultural sensitivity, media literacy and civic engagement, and included six video conferences where students could interact with each other.
A unique aspect of this evaluation was the incorporation of Visual Explorer (VE) into the focus groups. Students picked a VE card that represented the impact they experienced from participating in the program. The use of Visual Explorer was a powerful and engaging component of both the U.S. and Afghan focus groups.
There was evidence of impact in the all three of the areas targeted: cultural sensitivity, media literacy, and civic engagement. The greatest impact reported by both Afghan and US youth was greater unity and solidarity and an increase in media literacy. Additionally, Afghan youth reported being encouraged to continue their formal education (not always highly valued in Afghanistan, particularly for women), being inspired to help develop their country, an increase in confidence, and recognition of the benefits of team work. U.S. youth also reported an increase in cultural awareness and an appreciation of diverse perspectives.