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Hopes and fears for the use of evidence

Dale-Blyth.jpgIn March and April my schedule has me in multiple conversations about evidence. What is the evidence for the impact of out of school time programs? How do we generate better evidence? How does one organize evidence to make it useful? How do we invest in creating, gathering, and using evidence? How should evidence guide further investments in our field? To what extent does money flow to where evidence is strong or stop when evidence is weak?

At the recent Mayoral Summit here in Minnesota, mayors and others learned about the evidence that youth opportunities work, to what extent young people are participating, and the nature of the opportunity gap as a supply problem, not a demand problem. Many attendees wanted more evidence about opportunities in their communities, evidence that what mayors can do will matter, and evidence that if we build it, youth will come.

evidence.jpgAt a forum discussing program accreditation last week the group explored the ways we use evidence - whether from Consumer Reports or Trip Advisor on line reviews - before we invest. The more authoritative, simple and aligned with our values and questions the evidence is, the more useful. Questions here were about whether accreditation provides useful evidence and how the evidence would be gathered if there were an accreditation process. Also, what is the evidence that accreditation of programs improve quality or increase outcomes? What is the evidence that accreditation systems generate investments in a field and improve quality?

I put this question into historical perspective in a recent issue of the Journal of Youth Development (jump to page 167). This week I am in a work group of academic researchers examining how prevention science and developmental science can create a better evaluation model for youth programs and how we increase investments in the creation and use of such evidence. This summer, I will be in Ireland reviewing the evidence they have gathered to inform their new youth development and youth services national policy. What evidence will make the cut as strong enough? What will the evidence say or be unable to say? What impact will it have in their current political, economic, and practice contexts? All these opportunities to examine the role of evidence give me pause.

What do you worry about when it comes to the use of evidence in our field?
What do you hope evidence can do for our field?

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