Case Study: Measuring Impact
Organization: YMCA of the USA, based in Chicago, Illinois
Contact: Ann Feeney, CAE, manager of research and planning, firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-419-8795 The Challenge | The Solution | The Process | Measurements & Results | Lessons Learned | Resources
The Challenge: How to help YMCAs demonstrate the effectiveness of their youth programs. Increasingly, YMCAs and funders both want evidence—not gut feelings, “makes-sense” logic or anecdotes—that a program works.The Challenge | The Solution | The Process | Measurements & Results | Lessons Learned | Resources The Solution:
Starting first with a smaller project in 1994, the YMCA of the USA collaborated with Search Institute, a think tank specializing in the study of youth developmental assets. Assets are characteristics of a family, community, school or youth that are strongly associated with positive behaviors, such as graduating from school, while a lack of assets is strongly associated with negative behaviors, such as substance abuse. The full list of assets is available at http://www.search-institute.org/assets/. The Challenge | The Solution | The Process | Measurements & Results | Lessons Learned | Resources The Process:
The project began as a collaboration between the Program Development and Research and Planning departments. The heads of both departments led the process and initiated the collaboration with Search Institute, an organization about which we had heard. Several associates in these departments also took on various projects as part of the collaboration. Search Institute, which first introduced the asset approach in 1989, worked with us for two years to develop a kit for youth organizations like YMCAs to communicate the asset approach.
The kit, released in 1996, also contained a survey tool that YMCAs could use locally to measure whether or not the organization delivers youth assets. In addition, we worked with a company that would provide uniform pricing for processing and reporting on the survey results for individual YMCAs.
Now, YMCAs just need to measure whether or not their program delivers assets to youth, rather than to do any kind of pre- and post-testing, longitudinal studies or other measurement approach.The Challenge | The Solution | The Process | Measurements & Results | Lessons Learned | Resources Measurements & Results
While the tool kit is still updated regularly, the developmental assets focus is huge in the YMCA movement and continues to grow. Y-USA has a dedicated staff specialist in the Abundant Assets Partnership, which is the ongoing multi-party collaboration dedicated to helping Ys and their local collaborative partnership use the asset model (Y-USA, Y Canada, and Search).
Approximately 27% of Ys are formally engaged in the Abundant Assets initiative, although more than 75% of Ys use the asset development model and tools. Many also use the survey or an equivalent. In many communities, YMCAs have spearheaded or been part of community-wide initiatives to mobilize the community around delivering assets.
Assessments often are conducted annually or every few years, with Ys usually assessing an individual program when it ends. Overall youth engagement and asset development at the Y is usually executed annually.
Regarding measurement of impact, while the asset adoption rate is the official metric, the anecdotal testimonials are compelling. Many YMCAs report that the asset model and asset measurement kits have provided a unifying direction not just for the Y youth programming but also for the community. Since Ys are inherently community-based organizations whose boards are all comprised of community members, this is wonderful to hear. Because of such positive feedback, the Y continues its partnership with Search Institute today on other assessment and outcomes projects.
Costs primarily were in staff time and are difficult to estimate because the Y-USA’s Research Department and other department have been reconfigured so tremendously since the initial launch of the collaboration.The Challenge | The Solution | The Process | Measurements & Results | Lessons Learned | Resources Lessons Learned:
It was a great reminder of how word of mouth drives adoption of new initiatives. Shortcuts don't have to involve shortchanging. The Challenge | The Solution | The Process | Measurements & Results | Lessons Learned | Resources Resources:
The Search Institute has a wealth of research and resources.
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