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Nation of Wellness (NoW): Youth-led initiative to transform adolescence

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About the evaluation

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered many disruptions to the status quo. In the wake of these disruptions, opportunities for experimentation, change, and evolution emerged. One such opportunity occurred with the Matsqui-Abbotsford Impact Society’s (Impact) Nation of Wellness (NoW) initiative and their partner, the Abbotsford School District, who wanted to “shake things up” in the face of the pandemic. Their shared vision? To have students develop self-directed, educational “learning journeys” that were relevant to their lives and experiences. The overall goal of the project is to create spaces where young people can guide and support their communities to build a culture where they are seen, heard, included, and celebrated. To document and clarify the emerging knowledge from this innovative work, Impact commissioned CHÉOS to conduct a developmental evaluation of the NoW. A developmental evaluation was selected to match with NoW’s process-oriented and emergent nature. The focus of the developmental evaluation is on the people organizing the initiative, their processes, and what they are learning about the initiative.

About the project

NoW began with a 6-week intensive “learning journey” period in late summer 2020. During this period, 15 “NoW Youth and Young Adult Contributors” (aged 14 to 26) designed and developed “learning journey” projects. The topics for the projects were as diverse as the young people who created them: hosting workshops on wellbeing; reconnecting with, learning about, and sharing their indigeneity; building a curriculum on subjects they were passionate about; engaging in budgeting and financing among other journeys important to each young person. Note that multiple features of the learning journeys pilot had to be organized around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the use of non-traditional spaces with physical distancing, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment at in-person meetings as well as the use of virtual meeting spaces.

Study approach

An ethnographic approach to data collection was used for the developmental evaluation, including interviews and focus groups with the young people and NoW staff, participatory evaluation workshops and activities, unstructured participant observations, and documentation with field notes. In keeping with the NoW’s commitment to youth leadership with adult support, the young people involved in NoW were invited and encouraged to share their thoughts and feedback on the evaluation as it was unfolding. The early findings of the developmental evaluation revealed that, in addition to their project work, the young people learned about collaboration, empowerment, diversity of perspectives, adaptation to new challenges, self-reflection, and self-appreciation. Supportive relationships among the NoW staff members and the young people who participated in NoW were explored, developed, and nurtured to facilitate the learning process. NoW’s cohort structure, and commitment to compensating young people for their work, were also critical factors in the initiative’s success.

Where are we now

Following the 6-week intensive period through the summer of 2020, the NoW group has evolved and is focusing on cannabis use among youth to further challenge and stretch themselves and the school district to address topics relevant to their age cohort. Through Canada Summer Jobs, two young people from NoW are leading the process of exploring peer-reviewed research on the subject and sharing their knowledge with the group. The dialogues among the group that have emerged from this work have touched on the important differences between causation and correlation, understanding the value of quantitative and qualitative approaches, and the meaning behind disaggregated data collection. Over the last few months, the goal of NoW has evolved to working with partners to transform their approach to youth engagement work. In light of this, various proposals and applications to scale up NoW have been submitted in partnership with the school district, First Nations Health Authority, UBC, and others. The NoW initiative has also instigated the launch of the Greenhouse Project, which aims to engage youth from marginalized groups and Indigenous young people in the Fraser East region of B.C. to examine issues related to cannabis use, youth mental health, and lived experience. The Greenhouse project is co-led by CHÉOS Associate Director Dr. Amy Salmon and the study team includes Drs. Joseph Puyat and Beth Snow.