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Program evaluation

Does your program make a difference? Are your program participants and volunteers satisfied? Are your staff members effective? How do you know? Evaluation is critical for sustaining a successful youth program.

Comments on this page? Curator: Samantha Grant, evaluation director

Youth Development Insight

Our faculty blog about research, issues and trends in the field. Join the conversation!

  • 7/17

    How to foster youth independence

  • Jessica Pierson Russo

    Thinking about this week's national holiday, it occurs to me how important it is for youth to develop a sense of independence and agency. An article that explores how youth develop agency says, "The challenging issue for how to support a developmental process in which youth are the central protagonists and agents of change." How can we build structures within youth programming that better support youth authoring their own lives? Read more.


  • 6/17

    Tips on writing surveys for youth

  • Betsy Olson

    Collecting opinions from the youth in your program can be as easy as asking the right question. But in surveys, asking the right question can be tricky. The questions can be too complex, the responses can be mismatched or the vocabulary can be confusing. Don't go through all the hard work of collecting survey data from a group of young people without ensuring the responses measure what you intend to measure. Read more.

See all program evaluation blog posts

Reports & journal articles

Engaging Focus Group Methodology: The 4-H Middle School-Aged Youth Learning and Leading Study

Produced by Extension: Siri Scott, Samantha Grant and Pamela Nippolt
With young people, discussing complex issues such as learning and leading in a focus group can be a challenge. To help prime youth for the discussion, this focus group featured a fun, interactive activity. This article includes a description of the focus group activity, lessons learned, and suggestions for additional applications. 2015.

Citizen Science as a REAL Environment for Authentic Scientific Inquiry

Produced by Extension: Nathan Meyer, Siri Scott, Andrea Lorek Strauss, Pamela Nippolt, Karen Oberhauser, Robert Blair
Guiding principles and design strategies for the University of Minnesota Extension's Driven to Discover: Enabling Authentic Inquiry through Citizen Science project demonstrate how education and investigations grounded in real-world citizen science projects can capitalize on REAL environments to generate meaningful STEM learning. 2014.

Science of Agriculture Challenge report

Produced by Extension: Samantha Grant
The Science of Agriculture Challenge completed its pilot year of implementation in 2014-2015. Twelve teams distributed throughout the state took part in the final showcase which was a 2.5 day event on the St. Paul University of Minnesota campus. This report highlights the project and key evaluation findings. (PDF) 2015.

Youth in 4-H Participation Patterns

Produced by Extension: Siri Scott, Dale Blyth, Pam Larson Nippolt
Youth organizations, like 4-H, are dynamic systems with structures that grow and change over time. In the current study, we examine differences in participation across gender, race, ethnicity, and area of residence. (322K DOC) 2014.

Academic Achievement of Youth in the 4-H Program

Produced by Extension: K. Piescher, S. Hong, Dale Blyth, Pamela Nippolt
The purpose of this study was to examine academic outcomes of youth who participated in Minnesota's 4-H program compared to those who did not, and to understand how parent engagement and duration of 4-H participation affects youth achievement and attendance trajectories over five years. (PDF) 2014.

The Positive Development of Youth

National 4-H Council
A report of the findings from the first eight years of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, sometimes referred to as "The Tufts Study." 2013.

From Soft Skills to Hard Data: Measuring Youth Program Outcomes

Forum for Youth Investment
Out-of-school time programs can help youth develop skills and attributes they need to be ready for college, work and life, but few have the tools to effectively measure those outcomes. This guide reviews eight youth outcome measurement tools appropriate for use in after-school and other settings. (PDF) 2011.

Developing and Improving After-School Programs to Enhance Youth’s Personal Growth and Adjustment: A Special Issue of AJCP

Joseph Durlak, Joseph, Mahoney, Amy Bohnert, Maria Parente
This introductory article overviews the historical and current context of ASPs and then describes a developmental ecological model to guide research in this area. 2010.

Does the Amount of Participation in Afterschool Programs Relate to Developmental Outcomes? A Review of the Literature

Jodie Roth, Lizabeth Malone, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
Contrary to the findings from previous reviews we found little support for the general notion that greater amounts of participation in afterschool programs was related to academic, behavioral, or socio-emotional outcomes. 2010.

Hours of Opportunity: Lessons from Five Cities on Building Systems to Improve After-School, Summer, and Other Out-of-School-Time Programs (Volumes I, II and III)

Susan J. Bodilly, Jennifer Sloan McCombs et al.
This three-volume report examines Wallace-supported efforts in five cities to build systems to improve the quality and accessibility of after-school, summer and other out-of-school time (OST) programs. The study concludes that the fledgling systems, which seek to coordinate the work of major OST players like schools, parks departments, and nonprofit after-school programs, hold some promise. 2010.

Inside the Black Box: Assessing and Improving Quality in Youth Programs

Nicole Yohalem and Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom
This paper describes what is known about the relation between youth program quality and youth developmental outcomes, summarizes different quality assessment tools being used in the field, and discusses how such tools are being used to drive systemic quality improvement efforts. 2010.

Minnesota 4-H Retention Study Brief

Produced by Extension: Rebecca Harrington and Trisha Sheehan
While the Minnesota 4-H Club program has been growing over the last six years, over 25% of youth do not re-enroll annually. Wanting to know how 4-H could improve its member retention rate, the Minnesota 4-H Retention Study asked 4-H members who left the program why they decided to join, stay and ultimately leave 4-H. (PDF) 2010.

Understanding and Improving the Effectiveness of After-School Practice

Robert Granger
This article draws on the work in this volume and related studies to suggest that there is an emerging consensus on the importance of staff-youth interactions as a determinant of program effectiveness. 2010.

Exploring the Supply and Demand for Community Learning Opportunities in Minnesota

Produced by Extension: Ann Lochner, Gina Allen, and Dale Blyth
This report, also known as the "Gap Study," documents the gap between supply and demand for youth development programs in the state. 2009.

Afterschool programs in the 21st century: Their potential and what it takes to achieve it

Priscilla M.D. Little, Christopher Wimer, Heather B. Weiss
This research brief draws on seminal research and evaluation studies to address two primary questions: (a) Does participation in after school programs make a difference, and, if so (b) what conditions appear to be necessary to achieve positive results? 2008.

Highlights from Out-of-School Time Database

E. Harris
This Research Update explores two major themes: Using evaluation to shape program improvement and planning, and out-of-school time benefits to older youth and their families. 2008.

Youth Participatory Evaluation (YPE)

ACT for Youth Center of Excellence
Youth participatory evaluation (YPE) is an approach that engages young people in evaluating the programs, organizations, and systems designed to serve them. Through YPE, young people conduct research on issues and experiences that affect their lives, developing knowledge about their community that can be shared and put to use. 2008.

Outcomes linked to high-quality afterschool programs: Longitudinal findings from the study of afterschool programs

D.L. Vandell, E.R. Reisner, and K.M. Pierce
A report explaining that regular participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores and work habits as well as reductions in behavior problems among disadvantaged students. (PDF) 2007.

Minnesota Commission on Out-of-School Time

Produced by Extension: Dale Blyth, Joyce Walker, Ann Lochner
At the request of University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks, several members of our faculty examined Minnesota youth needs and produced a blueprint for ensuring Minnesota’s young people have engaging opportunities to learn and develop during the non-school hours. (PDF) 2005.

Journeys into Community Executive Summary

Journeys into Community Full Report

Listening to Young People's Perspectives on Out-of-School Time Opportunities

Our past presentations

Youth As Assessors: Engaging Youth in Program Improvement

Betsy Olson, Karyn Santl and Alneida Madrigal

This webinar explores how youth in programs could be the very resource needed to improve program quality! Presenters draw from an ongoing pilot project aimed at including youth in program evaluation and 4-H program improvement planning, and highlight current research regarding the impacts of participatory evaluation practices with young people.

The webinar outlines best practices, investigates the important elements of youth-adult partnerships to engage youth in evaluation and assessment projects, and will leave you with some strategies that can help build participatory evaluation practices into any youth program. 2016.

Putting youth participatory evaluation into action: Lessons learned and innovations

Katie Richards-Schuster
March 14, 2013

Transforming Youth-Adult Relationships through Research and Evaluation

Kim Sabo Flores, Ph.D.
A playful and cutting-edge approach to youth participating in evaluation that has the potential to radically shift the way youth and adults form partnerships. 2012.

Beyond Academic Measures: The value of measuring other aspects of thriving

Chris Smith and Elizabeth Devaney
This symposium focuses on how to assess non-academic outcomes such as the impact of programs on youths' engagement in their own learning.  2011.

More Than Safe Spaces: Adolescent Development and Relationship Building in After-School Settings

Dr. Nancy Deutsch
This presentation focuses on research that looks in-depth at what happens inside after-school programs. More than just keeping kids safe during the 3-6 pm "risk hours," after-school programs can be vibrant settings that promote positive youth development. 2008
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