How often in programs do we continue to do something because "It's that time of year again"? A quote from Albert Einstein reads, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I don't think Einstein was thinking about evaluation when he coined this phrase, but it nicely articulates our tendency to continue to offer youth programs without "checking under the hood" periodically.
As an educator for program evaluation, I believe strongly in using evaluation to guide and improve youth programs and to prove their worth to others. I know that others will agree with me on this. But I think we often fail to intentionally build evaluation into our program design and as a result our programs suffer. Jane Powers's research on youth participatory evaluation demonstrates that the act of intentionally engaging youth in the evaluation experience helps to not only build stronger programs but also youth development skills in participating youth.
Youth workers are natural evaluators -- we intuitively modify environments to fit participants' needs. Being intentional about evaluation could include strategies such as:
- Checking the "pulse" of a group as they conduct an activity.
- Forming an advisory group from a mix of youth workers and youth to plan and critique program offerings.
- Embedding reflection into daily practice. The Youth Work Institute has an excellent toolkit on reflection.
- Administering a pre-tests and post-tests to youth in a program. The Harvard Family Research Project has some excellent resources on methods and design.
- Analyzing evaluation data with the help of youth. Youth will be able to add their own perspectives on understanding data and in making changes to a program.
Evaluation is one natural way to determine if your program is going in the right direction or just going insane. How are you finding ways to embed evaluation in your daily practice? Do you have any tips to make it easier or more natural?