YouthREX’s Approach to Understanding and Measuring Youth Wellbeing

What do we need to evaluate given the tension between what funders want measured and what we are interested in knowing?

How can evaluation improve our practice rather than get in the way of it?

How do we evaluate and what does our evaluation mean?

How can we improve or change our program based on what we learned?

Responses to these questions often fall along a continuum – at one end evaluation is seen as apolitical and value-free, and at the other end evaluation is seen as so fraught with contradictions that it is meaningless and needs to be avoided.

Given these polarizing views of evaluation, it is not surprising that youth workers often talk about how evaluation can be a deterrent to doing what they are passionate about – working one-on-one with youth!

To support the evaluation capacity of grassroots youth organizations in Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Services invested in the creation of the Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX), a province-wide initiative based at the School of Social Work at York University with five Regional Hubs based in four other universities across Ontario.

Our mission is to make research evidence and evaluation practices accessible and relevant to Ontario’s grassroots youth sector through knowledge mobilization, capacity building and evaluation leadership. Central to our approach is a nuanced understanding of ‘evidence’ that acknowledges the politics of evaluation and the need for evaluation processes and methods to reflect grassroots youth sector realities.

We invited participants to join our three-part webinar series on different elements of our approach to evaluation. These webinars included conversations with YouthREX’s academic directors, staff and key stakeholders on our Evaluation FrameworkCustomized Evaluation Supports (CES), and newly launched evaluation toolkit; all have been developed specifically to support youth programs in Ontario to understand their impact.

Webinar 1/3

May 11, 2016
11:00am – 12:00pm

YouthREX’s Framework for Evaluating Youth Wellbeing

Dr. Uzo Anucha, YouthREX Provincial Academic Director, Dr. Harjeet Badwall, Academic Lead of Customized Evaluation Supports (CES), and Dr. Sarah Todd, Academic Director of the Eastern Regional Hub @ Carleton University, hosted a conversation about YouthREX’s Framework for Evaluating Youth Wellbeing.

They discussed the purpose and vision of the Framework and examined its three guiding lenses: learning-focused, youth engaged, and contextualized methods. They discussed how these lenses are uniquely suited to respond to the organizational, social and political context of grassroots youth programs.

Webinar 2/3

May 26, 2016
1:00pm – 2:00pm

An Overview of YouthREX’s Customized Evaluation Supports (CES)

Dr. Jessica Wiese, YouthREX’s Senior Manager of Evaluation, Lisa Barleben, Eastern Hub Manager, and Vivian Oystrick, Northeastern Hub Manager invited participants to learn more about our Customized Evaluation Supports (CES) for grassroots youth sector organizations.

Our CES services support grassroots youth sector organizations to better understand the outcomes of their programs and to develop and implement evaluation plans that track, measure and share the impact of their work with youth. In this webinar, we walked participants through our service delivery model to learn how we ground our values in practice and support the evaluation of more than 70 youth programs across Ontario.

Webinar 3/3

July 28, 2016
11:00am – 12:00pm

Finding and Selecting Tools for Your Outcome Evaluation

Jessica Noble, YouthREX’s Central Hub Manager, Corliss Bean, a YouthREX Research and Evaluation Specialist, and Eugenia Duodu, Executive Director of Visions of Science held a conversation on how to ‘painlessly’ identify indicators and measures that are right for your youth program evaluation.

In this webinar, they introduced the inventory of measures that YouthREX is developing. Using a CES case example, they walked participants through how to select outcomes, indicators and measures. They demonstrated how our online evaluation toolkit, part of our recently launched the eXchange for Youth Work, can support your youth program evaluation.