Reflections from the Frontline: Evaluation Allows You to Focus On The Story You Want to Tell
by Laura Jones
Senior Manager, Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa
YouthREX Online Evaluation Certificate Learner
The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa (BGCO) is a registered charity that provides 4,500 children and youth in seven at-risk neighbourhoods across the city with a safe space during the most vulnerable hours of the day, and free access to life-changing programs in four key programming pillars (Education, Physical Activity / Healthy Lifestyle, Leadership and Social Skills, Creative Arts) that are purposefully designed to drive personal development.
Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa programming is designed to be engaging, accessible for all, and contribute toward the overall development of good citizens and leaders within the community. The BGCO incorporates a community-based approach to program planning, which involves the community – children, youth, families, service providers, volunteers, funders, businesses, and others – in identifying community needs and assets. With this information and the participation of children and youth, clubs develop programming that reflects our four pillars, fills gaps in service, and meets the interests of children, youth, and their families.
As I worked my way through YouthREX’s Online Evaluation Certificate: Program Evaluation for Youth Wellbeing, I focused my attention towards trying to capture the success of our Homework Club program, a key component of programming at all BGCO locations. Each session includes a healthy snack and quiet, focused homework time, where youth can access technology and get help from tutors and staff. The Homework Club delivers creative solutions to the challenges faced by many local communities, including working with community partners to overcome language barriers and increasing literacy levels through innovative techniques and collaborative partnerships (i.e., the Public Library). The Homework Club is one of our most frequented programs. With a strong focus on literacy and numeracy, Homework Club gives students the resources, confidence, and training to help them succeed in school and beyond.
Now that I have completed YouthREX’s certificate, I have reflected on three main takeaways that I can apply to my future youth work evaluations, including the Homework Club:
1. Narrow Your Focus
Like many social service organizations, the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa offers programs to thousands of children and youth each year. This certificate allowed me to step back and really focus in and examine a core program. Through the reflective exercises and questions within the certificate, I gave careful thought to what we really are trying to accomplish, and also provided clarity to obstacles that we are facing. By reflecting on the overall goals of the program, I was able to work my way through the short, mid-, and long-term outcomes. This certificate helped me streamline the evaluation questions for the Homework Club, which in turn will make for a much stronger program.
2. The More Time You Put In, The More You Get Out
Being a Senior Manager in a large organization requires you to be adaptable and flexible in your priorities and tasks. This certificate was more intensive than I anticipated, yet it challenged me to rethink our overall approach to evaluation. One of the assignments was to develop a program logic model, and this was a very worthwhile exercise for someone working in an organization that offers many programs. Although there are overall goals of the BGCO, concentrating on one core program highlighted the outcomes we want and what changes we really want to see. Designing the evaluation questions allowed for critical thinking and encouraged a pause in a busy work schedule to ensure that Homework Club was on the track that we wanted it to be.
3. Focus On The Story You Want to Tell
Linking your evaluation to the story you want to tell is crucial, not only for fundraising and informing stakeholders of your program success, but also to ensure you are capturing the “best” data. The layout of the Homework Club allowed me to work through the stages of evaluation while never losing sight of the end goal. I often had to reflect on the beginning stages of the program logic model to make sure questions and evaluation matched up. Tying a program all together, from the basis of why you run it to how you determine if it is successful, was a truly worthwhile exercise and a benefit of this certificate.
As a proud member of the Boys and Girls Club family, I am pleased to acknowledge YouthREX for this outstanding capacity-building opportunity. YouthREX’s 10-week online certificate benefitted me personally, as well as the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa as a whole. What was taught during the course can be directly applied to our efforts in evaluation. I feel more confident as a program evaluator and I look forward to applying my newly acquired evaluation skills to enhance our youth programs.