The author reviewed 209 evaluations of out-of-school time programs contained in the Harvard Family Research Project database and found that "only a handful of them measured community- or systems-level outcomes, while the majority measured individual gains related to academic achievement and youth-development outcomes." The one-way street for documenting that our youth development programs are making a difference is "fundamentally flawed" Zeller-Berkman concludes. This got my attention.
Youth programs benefit adults, too
A couple of years ago, our center partnered across 11 states to collect data from more 3,000 adults who volunteered in 4-H programs. In this survey (as yet unpublished), adults told us the many ways that they benefit from their involvement with youth. Several themes emerged:
- increased self confidence for adults
- improved social skills for adults
- stronger community connections for adults
- new learning of subject matter for adults and
- access to creative outlets through the program for adults.
The adult volunteers wouldn't have gained these benefits without youth participation! To take these benefits into account, Zeller-Berkman urges us to design outcome evaluations that include:
- the changes that result in the community from partnerships with youth
- program designs that do this effectively, and
- strategies written by youth that change adults and communities for the better.
Is it time to re-think the way we approach outcome evaluation in the youth development field? What would you change?
Pamela Larson Nippolt, state faculty and program leader, program evaluation
Zeller-Berkman's article is available to subscribers here.