Supporting Community Participation in Grassroots Youth Programs: Five Recommendations on Program Implementation Evaluation
Community-based youth programs create a range of positive outcomes, including increased community health, wellbeing, and civic engagement, to name a few.
These programs are often designed democratically with the participation of community residents. Designing a program is only the first step to actually bringing a program to life. The journey of the taking a program proposal and animating it in real-world settings requires moving through the complex stages of program implementation. Program implementation stages include: exploration (assessing needs), installation (building capacity to implement a program/designing the program), implementation (piloting the program), full implementation (running the program at full capacity); and, expansion and scale-up of the program. These stages apply whether the program being implemented is completely new or an existing model that has been adopted and/or adapted to a new context.
Successful programs include evaluation feedback loops throughout and are responsive to challenges that arise through all stages.
As the Central Hub Manager of YouthREX, I have a special interest in the development, implementation, and evaluation of grassroots youth programs in Ontario. In fact, my Master’s thesis research consisted of an implementation evaluation of a grassroots program in Southwestern Ontario. Specifically, I focused on understanding what facilitated and hindered resident participation during program implementation. The findings from my implementation evaluation produced key recommendations for enhancing effective community participation in the program. Here are my five recommendations:
- Clarity: It is important that community members who are involved with the program have a clear understanding of the program’s implementation plan and timeline, the program’s mission and vision, and their respective roles and responsibilities. A greater comprehension of timelines will provide more realistic foresight of the program’s plan and increase the chances of community members meeting program expectations. Additionally, awareness of the program’s mission and vision will enhance community member’s ability to promote the program in their community and engage in community outreach. Finally, a clear understanding of specific roles will increase their accountability to the program and enhance collaboration among those involved.
- Partnership: There is a need for clarity surrounding the partnership between the program and community resident associations. Similar to the previous recommendation, defining the roles and responsibility allows each partner organization to mutually agree on their expected involvement to the program and to be held accountable for their contribution. Roles and responsibilities of each organizational partner should be clearly written in an agreement in order to avoid any confusion.
- Team-building: Team-building is a key component when implementing a community-driven program. It is important to build rapport among youth, staff, volunteers and community members. Creating a strong community within the program team will enhance communication, social support, and build deeper connections among those participating in the program. Emerging issues can also be addressed and resolved quicker when those involved feel the environment facilitates safety and trust. It is also important that team-building activities occur when new staff and community resident volunteers are brought into the program.
- Program handbook: Community engagement can be supported by a program handbook. Program handbooks are working documents that outline the program mission, activities, protocols and procedures. Program handbooks can create clarity and consistency surrounding which actions to take when certain situations arise and may be revised as the program develops. When key tasks are defined (e.g., education and training, actions to take when conflict arises, procedures for new staff and volunteers, etc.) it is easier for community members who are supporting the program to align their activities with the program goals. If any confusion arises during program activities, community members can refer back to the policy handbook for clarification.
- Meaningful opportunities: Community members can bring a range of strengths and experiences to program design and implementation. Engagement opportunities should be matched to their strengths. Community participation during the initial program planning stage can improve the program design and also is an opportunity to build rapport and reduce feelings of apprehension among community members when working with professionals on technical tasks like grant writing. Community members can support in other ways, for example organizing and assisting with community events. At all stages of the program implementation, look for opportunities to meaningfully involve community members.