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Youth Development and Evaluation

ACT for Youth Highlight
Areas of special emphasis for the ACT for Youth Evaluation Team are:

Youth Participatory Evaluation -- involving young people as partners in research and evaluation.

Community-based program evaluation, especially with organizations working to promote adolescent sexual health.

Implementation research with organizations adopting evidence-based programs.

Focus group research with adolescents and their families.


In the context of youth development, evaluation is a process of systematically gathering information about how efforts to achieve positive outcomes are working. Evaluations provide information that can be used right away to keep programs and initiatives on track and inform quality improvements.

Types of Evaluation

Process evaluation focuses on whether programs or initiatives are doing what they planned to do in the way they planned to do it. For example, a process evaluation will look at how many youth participated in each session of a workshop series. Did as many youth enroll as expected? Do demographics show that the program is reaching the intended audience? How many young people complete the program and how many leave early? What do participants say about their experience with the program or initiative? Are community coalitions involving representatives from all of the different sectors and walks of life that they had hoped to engage?

Outcome evaluation focuses on changes that occur as a result of participation in programs. This type of evaluation asks "What difference has the program made for individuals, groups, families, or the community?" For example, do program participants increase their use of condoms and contraceptives? Are they more likely to access testing and treatment for HIV/STDs? Do they delay the age at which they become sexually active, or have fewer sexual partners than youth in the general community? Outcome evaluations can also assess community-level changes. Do the numbers of Medicaid-eligible youth accessing family planning services increase after a community launches new sexual health programs?

Data Gathering

Different methods of gathering data and different types of data feed into process and outcome evaluation efforts.
  • Qualitative data include in-depth comments, stories, and images that would lose some of their meaning if reduced to numbers. Interviews with youth or staff, for example, can provide important information about program delivery. By analyzing qualitative data, researchers can identify important themes, commonalities, and contrasts that help paint a clearer picture of the subject at hand. Qualitative data can be gathered through open-ended questions in surveys, interviews, or focus groups, or it may be gathered by other means such as photography, painting, and community mapping projects.
  • Quantitative data, simply put, is information that can be expressed in numbers. It might include objective information (such as a person's height measured in feet and inches), self-reported information (how many months it has been since a last medical check-up, for example), or even experiences or attitudes ranked on a numerical scale (for instance, how confident someone feels about being able to discuss condom use with a partner). Quantitative data can be summarized and analyzed in many different ways -- by calculating percentages and statistics, for example. Quantitative data can allow accurate "pre/post" comparisons so that changes over time can be assessed. Baseline and follow-up surveys of youth participants can provide valuable quantitative information for both process and outcome evaluations of a community-based program.
  • Document review and analysis of administrative data can also contribute to program evaluation. This can be a very efficient way of getting information because it uses data that have already been compiled by the program or the program's funders, including quarterly reports, attendance sheets, and other records (such as data gathered on the utilization of family planning services).

Collaboration and the Evaluation Cycle

Evaluation is an ongoing cycle. From our perspective, the best evaluations involve teamwork -- with teams that include both youth and adults (Youth Participatory Evaluation) as well as input from program providers, funders, participants, and technical experts in evaluation. This teamwork is important from the planning phase of the evaluation effort right through to interpreting the data and deciding how to act on the findings.
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