What gets measured, gets managed: Program evaluation for youth work

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

A while ago, while catching up with a good friend of mine and, during a mutual vent-session over the frustration we feel about the youth sector, she mentioned something I found puzzling.

Some key youth organizations in the community were opposed to evaluation practices to assess their youth programs and services, even when the opportunities to do so were available. Not surprisingly, some of these programs were not doing so well, although they have been running for a decade or so. 

What gives?

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Often times, it can be convenient to assume that if we make services and programs available to support young people, these programs would be effective and impactful. Other times, it is easy to become attached to the program, or the funding, or our own ego, and we don’t want to find out that our program could be not as effective as we thought.

A youth program that is committed to youth wellbeing, however, is reflective, willing to improve, change and grow, and diligent in ensuring that its youth participants are experiencing the outcomes that the program is intended for.

To do so, we must be open to systematically evaluating the outcomes and usefulness of our programs and services.

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What exactly is program evaluation?

How do you know if your youth program is meeting the goals and objective you have set out?

How do you measure if your youth program is actually providing young people with the skills and resources they need to overcome challenging circumstances and make positive contributions to their communities?

Program evaluation is a systematic approach to collect and analyze the effectiveness and efficiency of youth programs, services, and projects. The information collected can be useful for stakeholders, such as, funders, staff members, parents, youth themselves, and the community as a whole.

Evaluation provides youth programs the tools to understand, measure and track the achievements and impacts of their programs. Equally important, program evaluation helps us understand exactly how these programs are successful and how they can be improved.

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Program evaluation is more than just showcasing whether a program is effective or not, but also a driving force for developing and adapting program strategies, improving existing programs, and demonstrating the results. 

Evaluation doesn’t need to be complicated, nor expensive as there are many resources available to support the youth sector to conduct program evaluation. YouthREX provides the grassroots youth sector and youth-led initiatives with leadership support necessary to develop and implement sustainable evaluation practices, and this toolkit is designed for planning, doing and using program evaluation.

If you measure it, you can manage it!


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