I recently had the opportunity to work with a non-profit organization that was running a virtual cultural exchange program with youth (mostly female) in the U.S. and youth in Afghanistan.  They had developed an evaluation plan for this program with their program staff but had the unique experience of having some funding earmarked for evaluation consultation.  That’s where I came in.  They needed a “real” evaluator to review their plans and instruments and give them advice on how to improve them.  They had plans to conduct a survey with all of the participants, but they also wanted to conduct focus groups.  I would help conduct the focus groups with some of the schools in the US, and they would work with their partner in Afghanistan to identify someone local to conduct the focus groups with the students from each of the participating schools there.  I would just need to provide their local evaluator guidance and training about the focus group protocol I was developing.

I decided this was a great opportunity to use one of CCL’s tools in a very unique environment.   Visual Explorer is a tool for creative conversations and deep dialogue—using a wide variety of images—about almost any topic chosen by the user.  In this case I would use Visual Explorer™ (VE) to facilitate a richer discussion around the impact of participating in the program.  A set of the VE cards was sent to Afghanistan.  I scheduled time to Skype with the evaluator in Kabul to explain how to use VE to facilitate dialogue in the context of the focus group.  Although the cards were designed to be relevant across cultures, this would be the test of how well they worked in this part of the world.

Not surprisingly, our first lesson was that some of the cards would not be appropriate.  A card with a picture of a nude statue and one with Lady Godiva, despite her carefully placed hair, would not be included.  But a bit surprisingly a card with a photo of a female relay team in short running attire was allowed.

Both in the US and in Afghanistan the Visual Explorer™ cards were a huge success in facilitating a deep and meaningful conversation about the impact these young people experienced as a result of connecting with their peers in another country.  They spoke about a greater understanding and appreciation for each other’s culture.  They commented on how many similarities they had but also an appreciation for the differences between them.

The evaluator in Afghanistan as well as their program partner in the US commented on how much richer the conversations were using the Visual Explorer™ cards and how much more the youth were engaged in the process.  Visual Explorer™ has since become a common tool in my evaluation toolbox.

To learn more about this project, please visit my post on CCL’s Explorer blog.

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