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Keeping program assessment "local" reaps benefits

By Deborah Moore

Want to keep a youth workers in your organization? Try involving them in observational assessment!

The recent release of the national YPQI study on improving youth program quality found one unexpected benefit to the process of observational assessment and planning process -- it increases staff retention. While it may seem hard to connect these dots, the finding does not surprise staff and consultants here at the Youth Work Institute who are working with youth organizations and staff throughout Minnesota to improve program quality.

Key study findings Include:
  • Using the YPQI intervention increases quality

  • Staff retention increased at programs using the intervention

  • The intervention works across a variety of youth work settings

  • The intervention is a cost-effective, low-stakes model for improving quality

These findings also connect to recent policy conversations happening in Minnesota and elsewhere that posed the question "Should youth programs be accredited?" The YPQI study adds new scientific knowledge to the conversation and surfaces a critical question about where accountability should reside - in external systems or local youth programs.

Lisbeth B. Schorr, senior fellow at the Harvard Center for the Study of Social Policy and lecturer in social medicine at Harvard University has focused over the last three decades on "what works" in social policies and programs to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children and families. Shorr notes that practitioners and organizations already know what to do - they simply cannot get sustained support to do the work in a way practitioner and models show effect. As Schorr describes, practitioners "are driven by their commitment to making a difference in the lives of the families they serve, although their professional training would dictate a more judgmental, distanced posture. It is striking how often effective practice is characterized precisely by how it departs from traditional norms about what is considered "professional."

As a practitioner, what benefits have you experienced or seen when assessment is kept local? If practitioners and organizations already know what to do at the local level to improve program quality, what is the role of policy to support it?

-- Deborah Moore, former director, Youth Work Institute

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