|CC BY-SA 2.0, Katy Warner|
Youth program quality assessments have started the discussion on continuous improvement, but specific and systematic mechanisms for implementing continuous improvement are still lacking. Survey fatigue and evaluation overload prevent programs from getting robust feedback from their program participants. However, interactive program elements that allow program staff to solicit feedback from participants in concrete manageable ways enliven rather than exhaust the young people we serve.
Here are five tips for continuous improvement and making collecting feedback from young people meaningful:
- Communicate program/activity goals to youth consistently
Generalized feedback can occasionally help us make program improvements. However, when participants understand the goals and objectives of program elements we can collect feedback that is informed and influenced by the outcomes we are trying to reach. This informed feedback much more frequently leads to meaningful program improvements.
- More small-group work
We often think we have to get feedback from every participant if we want to show the group that we care about their input. However, we often then end up collecting feedback from participants who do not really care about or have passion for that program element. If we can instead gather a small group that is passionate about that element and ask them to make meaningful decisions about that program element, the rest of the participants see that youth voice is making meaningful change. This is creates significantly more engagement than collecting feedback from everyone and sorting through everyone’s opinions behind the scenes.
- Regular check-ins and wrap-ups
Ensure that participants know that they have an outlet to express their thoughts, opinions and concerns in a safe way. Provide a regular system for checking in with your participants on the program. You can incorporate reflection activities or simply ask a consistent closing/opening question. If problems or concerns with the program come up, have a mechanism for checking back in on that concern. Don’t let every opinion direct your program, but don’t let concerns go unaddressed, either.
- Put youth in charge
Who said evaluation had to be solely a staff responsibility? Coming up with creative ways to gather the opinions of their peers provides a leadership opportunity for youth leaders. It can also put them in a great position to steer the improvements the feedback reveals are needed.
- Mutual accountability
If both youth participants and adult leaders feel accountable for the outcome of program elements and hold each other accountable, both groups will feel compelled to consider program improvements. Creating an atmosphere of mutual accountability takes work to empower, engage and recognize participants. Youth and adults must both understand their roles clearly. However, when you can achieve mutual accountability, the process of engaging people in change becomes a natural part of the package.
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