Reflections from the Frontline: Evaluation Is No Longer an Intimidating Word
by Jessie Cornford
Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre
YouthREX Online Evaluation Certificate Learner
The first time I heard the term ‘Logic Model’ was over 10 years ago, in a very different position and context than where I currently find myself. Back then, I was the Executive Coordinator of a very small, non-profit supportive housing corporation that serves single parents and their children. When the term ‘Logic Model’ first appeared in my life, it was attached to a much more intimidating word — Evaluation. Our day-to-day work at the housing corporation tended to be responsive and reactive, instead of proactive and intentional.
We offered programming for parents and children, and often the programming served as respite, too. We did a lot of great things — at least, that’s what the tenants said — and the funders were happy with our numbers, so why would we need to do an evaluation?! We were very lucky to have PhD candidates working with us, connected to our local Centre of Excellence (at CHEO, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario), and with services provided at no cost to us. With a few collaborative meetings, the review of some key documents, and this great team of graduate students, a logic model magically appeared.
Not only that, but the students were also able to analyze some data and produce a great report. Of course, we were most happy to share it — because it proved what we already knew…and highlighted some things that we didn’t!
Having since returned to a frontline position with Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre several years ago, I hadn’t thought about evaluation for some time. I also didn’t think it would apply to me in my role as a frontline youth worker, within an organization that is well-established, accredited, and highly regarded in the community. It turns out that this organization takes evaluation very seriously, and it goes hand-in-hand with our ‘learning culture’. Given my past experience with evaluation, I naively expected that some highly-trained experts from outside the organization would come in, do whatever they do, and leave us with a neatly bound report. Thinking about anything other than that process was very intimidating and confusing! Then I found out about YouthREX’s Online Evaluation Certificate, Program Evaluation for Youth Wellbeing.
Completing this certificate was such an amazing experience, and it changed the way I think about evaluation — including my own level of competence and confidence. I had no idea about what evaluation really meant! I didn’t realize I could actually plan and lead my own relevant and creative program evaluation, and, most importantly, to include youth in a meaningful way.
Below are a few key areas of learning for me:
Understanding Logic Models
Working through a proper process of developing a logic model is so enlightening. Engaging the right people early on in the evaluation plan is critical to success, and developing a logic model with the key people (youth, too!) already onboard is the way to go! Creating a tool that reflects your program in a snapshot is extremely useful for program staff and others who manage youth programs in the organization, as it organizes our priorities and the work that we do. Further, it provides a clear way forward. For those frontline workers who are immersed in their program(s), this objective overview is a fantastic way to frame our perspectives in another way.
Youth Engagement – Truly
As key stakeholders, it would make absolutely NO sense to embark on an evaluation journey without youth being present (as much as possible) in every step along the way. Shifting our focus away from ‘producing an evaluation FOR them’ to ‘creating an evaluation story WITH them’ adds further benefit to youth as participants in the program. We know that skill development, improving social and civic competencies, fostering self-confidence, exploring identities, and building social capital happen when youth are truly engaged as meaningful partners in evaluation. Who wouldn’t want to add that bonus to their program outputs? Participating in evaluation is an amazing activity all on its own, where youth can develop even more skills that extend beyond the program’s goals!
Ongoing Ways to Celebrate Successes and Express Achievements of Positive Outcomes
Building momentum to continue evaluation is easier when youth participate in sharing successes in creative and meaningful ways. Seeing their own stories, art, poetry etc., used as a method of communicating results and findings is a great way to acknowledge their commitment to the entire process as valued partners. Feeling validated, respected, and important is part of a good foundation to ensure that this partnership continues in other evaluation adventures.
This certificate was an amazing opportunity for me to reframe my thinking about evaluation, and I look forward to many more evaluation stories! These days, I hear and use the word evaluation much more often, and with a level of confidence that I never anticipated. Following Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre’s lead of developing capacity, I have been able to build my own capacity for evaluation (with a great deal of gratitude to YouthREX for the opportunity)!
Jessie Cornford, B.A, CYW (Child & Youth Worker), has been working in the field of Child and Youth Care (CYC) for the past 12 years. After completing a B.A. in Art History, she made the decision to continue down a different path, and it has been most rewarding! Jessie was a junior Applied Behaviour Analysis therapist for three years, supporting children with Autism, followed by working in the Non-Profit Housing sector. Five years were spent at Emily Murphy Non Profit Housing Corp (EMNPHC) – first as a CYC and then as the Executive Coordinator – during which time an evaluation process was introduced. Finally, Jessie has spent the past five and a half years at Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, again in a frontline (hybrid) position, which includes facilitating the Zone and supervising all three of the youth drop-in programs (The Zone, The Queerios, and the Richmond Youth Drop In).