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Lessons Learned from the Global Program on Youth

When it was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in ) 998, the goals of the Global Program on Youth (GPY) were to improve the well-being of children and youth, to establish broad-based collaboratories, to transform teaching and learning, and to improve the translation from research to practice and policy.

Now in its fmal year, GPY has exceeded its original goals. In addition to achieving these goals, GPY has engaged institutions, developed programs for children and youth, transformed systems, strengthened practice with children and youth, and affected policy.

The GPY collaboratories are transforming the way that key stakeholders consider and respond to issues concerning children and youth. Collaboratories have opened people's minds to the possibilities within themselves, each other and their communities for successful joint, technology-supported efforts to solve problems from multiple locations, perspectives and levels simultaneously.

Throughout its life, GPY has been as ambitious as it was cutting-edge. Applying a collaboratory framework of research and problem-solving was entirely new in the context of child-focused research, practice and policy.

"Universities and communities can sometimes have a tenuous relationshipwith communities sometimes feeling as though the University treats them as a laboratory, without having the kind of investment in the neighborhood that they'd like to see," said Dean Paula AllenMeares, GPY principal investigator. "The collaboratory framework we used in GPY served to engage all of the partners in all phases of the process. We learned to support one another with resources and information, to ensure that everyone was participating as fully as they could. The framework helped us establish reciprocal relationships that met the research, teaching, learning and community service interests of academic partners, while mobilizing the knowledge and resources of the University to benefit community partners."

Faculty, students and community partners have benefitted from their GPY participation. One participant from a community agency described their experience with GPY this way: "It's been a partnership all the way around. Any time that you get people to buy into something, you have a much better chance for success, and I think that the work that this group has done together over numerous years has been so beneficial for all of us."

Hundreds of students, both undergraduate and graduate, have been involved with GPY. They have gained in-depth, hands-on experience working with communities and systems. The MexUSCan collaboratory offers particularly unique opportunities for students and provides a strong example of the benefits of collaboratory work for student learning and professional development. Through the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU) Project, MexUSCan sent two undergraduate students to Toronto, Canada and two more to Detroit for three weeks during the summer of 2002. The students each implemented a special study and assisted with MexUSCan research activities. Student projects included examining:

  • Changes in the economic status of Latino youth over the past decade
  • The impact of economic change over the past decade on female youth
  • Changes in treatment needs among Latino youth over the past decade

Several students who have participated in GPY have published papers regarding their work, spent time outside of the United States working on research projects and presented their research at academic conferences. Via GPY, students have been exposed to the latest trends in social work research as well as service learning and community-based research methods. More intense intereactions with individuals and organizations through the collaboratories provide students with a more relevant and current perspective on the daily realities of practice with youth and their families, which is making their educational experience more relevant to the world in which they will practice. Students have also developed professional networks earlier in their careers through interactions with collaboratory partners and have enhanced their understanding of social justice issues affecting children and youth. Further, they are gaining exposure to technology and learning about how technology can facilitate work.

For faculty, participation in GPY has strengthened their resolve that participatory action evaluation and research are powerful strategies for conducting scientific research that is relevant and readily applicable to problems for children and youth. Faculty researchers have discovered how valuable their role as teacher and partner (rather than "expert") can be to community members concerned about children and youth. Faculty report that the collaboratory experience has enhanced their skills at organizing and carrying out true community-based, participatory research. New links between the university and the larger community as a result of collaboratory partnerships are opening up vast resources of individuals, institutions and information . The use of data by agencies to improve services and the quality of life of at-risk children and youth is enhanced when these agencies and other community partners are engaged in the research design and data collection process, and when the research questions are relevant and practical to the challenges they face everyday. Faculty have discovered that agencies are capable partners in the design and execution of research and evaluation studies if they are respected and included in the process. Faculty participation in GPY is improving and influencing their teaching and research as non-university partners offer their insights and share their struggles.

GPY principal investigators have incorporated collaboratory principles into their teaching and service on committees. One principal investigator has contributed his knowledge of technologysupported collaboration to curriculum and course development for community organizing students and geographic information systems (GIS) research on mental health. His efforts have sparked faculty interest in GIS. Another principal investigator has been able to incorporate the lessons learned from his work into the social work curriculum concerning communities and social systems. One principal investigator from the MexUSCan project has designed course assignments in her Project Outreach course for Psychology undergraduate students. Students were asked to study various aspects of well-being among Latino youth. Detroit students conducted needs and asset studies. Numerous papers were written reflecting upon their findings. The MexUSCan principal investigators report that their participation in GPY has heavily influenced their thinking about community-based research from a multicultural perspective.

Although the principal investigators of the Family Development Project were not familiar with the pedagogy of community service learning at the outset of the collaboration, they implemented the program in response to the identified need. In time, they discovered a literature base for this kind of work. Now they have prepared a manuscript that reviews the literature on the integration of community service learning and community-based research. They have also incorporated what they have learned from the process of conducting community-based research and community service learning in existing courses, such as Contemporary Cultures in the United States, Infant and Child Development, and Community Development. In addition, some collaboratory partners have visited the classrooms of the principal investigators to present their work to the students, enriching the students' perspectives of the daily practice of social work.

Perhaps the most exciting implication of GPY is the potential it demonstrates for successful, sustained, real-time communication and shared work across cultures and continents. Technologysupported collaboration bends the rules of space and time that have traditionally constrained group problem-solving. Half of the GPY collaboratories have included partners from multiple countries, working together to examine the problems of children and youth locally, nationally and internationally, offering new insights on social problems and the potential for new solutions. As a result, collaboratories have been able to share their fmdings with international audiences, learn from the findings of similar efforts in other countries and develop mutually beneficial relationships with international partners. Collaboratory partners were able to broaden their own perspectives on global issues affecting children and youth, improve their understanding and open their minds to new possibilities to improve the status and well-being of children and youth.

The MexUSCan collaboratory designed, developed, implemented, monitored and evaluated community-based research in three countries: Canada, Mexico and the United States. Project partners grappled with their desire to develop a uniform program of study that would fit all three nations, so that findings could be compared and implications could be somewhat generalizable. Eventually they had to accept the reality that different systems call for different methods of study and rely on different understandings of contexts. Partners eventually agreed to communicate ideas for research and allow each other to develop their own research to approximate the overall goals of the project. They discovered the value and importance of working separately yet together.

In the Youth Group Conflict Reduction collaboratory, partners from Israel and South Africa have been able to bring the products of the collaboratory project to bear on their work in their respective countries. The collaboratory has finished its work on a manual to train young people in conflict reduction, and is piloting the manual for a school-based program to reduce youth group conflict in their own countries. During this phase, the collaboratory will likely have a greater impact on youth in these countries. Collaboratory partners believe that they are engaged in one of the only collaborative programs in which researchers from several countries work together to develop a program on youth group conflict reduction and to learn how it must be adapted for different societies. There is growing interest in this type of conflict resolution, as evidenced by an international conference held last spring in which investigators reported to each other on their national efforts.

The EZLink collaboratory shares the interest of the Youth Group Conflict Reduction collaboratory partners in sharing its work and findings to inform scholarship and community development efforts around the world. EZLink participated in the United Nations summit on wireless technologies and was recognized by many delegations. Wireless technologies (Wi-Fi) are already being used to assist developing countries to leap forward in the digital divide. EZLink's endorsement ofWi-Fi and open source applications is consistent with global shifts to wireless technologies. EZLink also developed relationships with partners in South Africa and Nigeria. Using technology, partners working with youth groups interested in health promotion and prevention connected with EZLink's youth groups. For example, the LoveLife Foundation, which is a youth run and operated HIV prevention program in Durban, South Africa, connected with youth initiatives here in the United States through the EZLink program.

Collaboratory partners have found that their efforts to learn about technology initiatives in developing countries have encouraged their own students in Detroit, who are often discouraged by their disadvantage when compared to the technology access and training opportunities available to students in other, wealtl1ier communities. By staying abreast of international technology developments, students are reminded that if developing countries are leapfrogging the digital divide through wireless technology, then they can do it here in the United States, too.

The Family Development Project and Teen Pregnancy Prevention collaboratories have also been invited to present their work to international audiences. The principal investigator of the Family Development Project presented a plenary about the role of discrimination and cultural competence in treating children of color at the Counseling and Treating People of Color Conference, which was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He also presented information about discrimination and mental health services at the Jacobs Foundation Conference in Zurich, Switzerland. The Youth as Community Builders collaboratory hosted an international youth workshop in Costa Rica. At the workshop, participants shared their organizational stories and learned from one another's experiences. The project partners worked to develop hands-on skills in participatory research, develop plans for documenting efforts and building a transnational support and action network in their home communities; and formulated specific plans for youth organizing in the partner communities.

The principal investigator of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention collaboratory has written a book, which references his GPY work and is now available in several countries including Canada, ireland and England. This collaboratory has made presentations to audiences that included participants from European and Asian countries. Both archived projects were international in scope. The Monitoring School Violence collaboratory involved collaboratory partners at the district and ultimately the national levels in Israel. The project had a significant impact on the ways policymakers and educators addressed issues of school violence in Israel. In 200 I, a delegation of collaboratory partners from Israel presented their project design and findings at a Working Conference on School Violence held in Ann Arbor. A number of different audiences, which included school superintendents, school district personnel, administrators, teachers, and Social Work and Education graduate students participated in critical conversations. The delegation also had an opportunity to tour some school-based initiatives in southeastern Michigan.

The Poverty and Early Childhood collaboratory refined and implemented a research protocol in three distinct sites in South Africa. Each participant gathered data in his/her own community using a common protocol. The collaboratory brought into the network of international researchers, the human service providers with whom individual researchers have partnered at the local level. They were linked together using web-based, list_serv and teleconferencing technologies.

These efforts to engage international audiences and international partners are an example of how collaboratories are equipped to consider the problems of children and youth in new ways and from a vast array of perspectives. These examinations provide new insights that inform the work of the coiJaboratory, help partners better define goals and open their minds to new solutions. In fact, international partners are interested in working with GPY collaboratories for the same reasons: to broaden their perspectives and consider new ways of making a difference for children and youth. These internationa] components of the GPY projects are clearly valuable and will likely continue and grow as collaboratories press on in their work.

GPY collaboratories are transforming the way that key stakeholders consider and respond to community problems as well as the lives of children and youth. This collaboratory experience has been groundbreaking and will continue to influence the work of all impacted children, youth, students, teachers, academics, parents, families and communities for generations. Collaboratories have opened people's minds to the possibilities within themselves, each other and their communities for successful joint, technologysupported efforts to solve problems from multiple locations, perspectives and levels simultaneously. The EZLink principal investigator summed up his view of the importance of tl1is collaboratory project when he said:

"This collaboratory experience has been absolutely transformative for me and for all of our community collaborators. Without GPY, there would be no Center for Urban Innovation, there would be no DetroitCONNECTED, there would be no community computer centers developed, and there would be no movement toward integrated technology policy in the City of Detroit."

As he and other collaboratory partners continue their efforts on behalf of children and youth and as other communities and institutions begin to embrace this collaboratory model for problem-solving, the Global Program on Youth will serve as a model for integrated work, an inspiration for similar efforts, and a starting point for some of the most creative and forward-thinking child and youth-focused projects today. As one principal investigator stated:

"We are convinced that communities care, solutions exist and technology allows the joining of forces ... to make the kind of impact necessary for change."

-Cynthia A. Hudgins is director of the Global Program on Youth

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