Carving a Path Towards Program Evaluation
by Liam McGuire
Associate Executive Director, Christie Lake Kids
It’s easy for program evaluation to get lost in the daily bustle of the non-profit world. Tracking budgets, planning programs, and fundraising jostle for priority in an environment that moves quickly, and sometimes unpredictably. Gathering staff and stakeholders to discuss, plan, and act on a program evaluation strategy has felt difficult when different priorities tug us away from our logic models and strategic plans. At times, conducting a program evaluation feels like a secondary task; something to be addressed once all the programs are developed, staff trained, and budget lines finalized. With the right plan and support from YouthREX, however, our path towards meaningful program evaluation is becoming clearer with every confident step forward.
Christie Lake Kids is an Ottawa-based organization that has been serving children and youth from low-income communities for almost 100 years. From our beginnings as a summer camp for boys involved in the juvenile court system, we’ve developed our programs over time to include summer camp and after-school programs in four communities across the city. One of our signature programs is Leaders-in-Training (LIT). The LIT program works with youth over a four-year period — from Grade 9, right through to Grade 12. This is a crucial time to offer such a program, as youth develop independence and skills that will strongly influence their future years. Although our program has worked with many youth to support their path towards post-secondary education, meaningful employment, and healthy lifestyles, we have operated without a central plan about what our key goals were, and how we would know if they were being met.
For the past 10 months, our organization has worked with YouthREX to improve our program planning and evaluation capacities. To date, we have taken part in two online training courses (Program Evaluation for Youth Wellbeing and Using Spreadsheets in Program Evaluation), and have been meeting with YouthREX team members at the Eastern Hub in Ottawa to support the design and evaluation efforts of the LIT program. Supports provided by YouthREX have been invaluable in our efforts to create a more purposeful and impact-driven youth leadership program. Working with YouthREX team members and participating in these online courses, we have increased our knowledge of fundamental elements of program design and evaluation, which resulted in the creation of a full logic model for the LIT program, and enabled us to gain new tools and approaches for communicating our evaluation findings to stakeholders.
“Using our Leaders in Training logic model makes it easy to pull important developmental themes and transfer them into meaningful, engaging programming. The clarity of the logic model presents the purpose of the themes in a way that youth can simply grasp, making a positive impact on building their skills and growing their strengths.”
-Elisha Lamoureux, LIT Program Supervisor, Christie Lake Kids
One of the most exciting and rewarding parts of this relationship has been a renewed ability to engage with our youth to help further develop programs. In the spring, our LIT participants engaged in multiple interactive program surveys and focus group discussions. This process helped provide our program with a set of key desired outcomes, with youth providing the key guiding voices.
Building off these outcomes, our LIT programs started this fall with a clear set of guiding themes. Youth programs are now being delivered with the four focused outcomes:
1. Increased understanding of personal leadership
2. Healthy and active living
3. Development of professional and/or educational pathways
4. Community engagement and leadership
Each program is also now evaluated by our program supervisor to ensure program themes and outcomes are on par with our newly-stated outcomes. After just a few months of renewed programming, our work with YouthREX has not only improved our evaluation capabilities, but has started to inform our program delivery on a weekly basis. Moving forward, Christie Lake Kids is excited to continue our work with YouthREX to develop customized evaluation tools that will directly assess our progress on each of the four program outcomes.
Life at a non-profit organization never slows down; however, in working with YouthREX, our path towards meaningful program evaluation has become clear. We are excited to continue our work together as we move towards a fully-integrated evaluation approach that will continuously inform how we design, deliver, evaluate, and communicate the work we do to support youth in our communities to become leaders and build successful futures.
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