YFE Week: Melanie Hwalek on Youth Leading Community Change

Hello! I am Melanie Hwalek, CEO of SPEC Associates. For almost two decades (zowie!), SPEC Associates has been working with Girl Scouts of the USA to measure outcomes from various Girl Scout programs. For almost a decade, we’ve been the national evaluator for the federal Rural Youth Development grants that Girl Scouts of the USA received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This grant program focuses on teaching girls social entrepreneurism skills and requires that they engage in a community project that will have a lasting impact on the community. As you can imagine, with a program that has engaged more than 20 different Girl Scout council sites it is no easy matter to capture the impact the girls’ projects have or could have on the communities that they serve. Our challenge over the years has been to come up with a method for capturing site-specific outcomes at a national level without breaking the evaluation bank. Other national evaluations that received the same grant funding (National 4-H and Future Farmers of America) were faced with the same challenge.

Luckily our youth participatory evaluation gurus, Kim Sabo Flores and Mary Arnold, agreed to help us devise a method by which youth could be trained to identify and measure outcomes of their unique community projects. The result is the Youth Leading Community Change:  An Evaluation Toolkit located on the Rural Youth Development Website www.ruralyouth.org. The Toolkit is built for older youth (ideally high schoolers) and has four parts: 1. Planning your evaluation, 2. Monitoring the quality of your project, 3. Evaluation methods, and 4. Telling your story. The Toolkit is built for use by youth-adult partners; it is a step-by-step guide to evaluating the quality and impact of community projects, complete with lesson plans.

Hot Tip: We learned that getting high school girls to see the value of using the Toolkit is no easy matter. The fact that it’s a good idea to evaluate the quality and outcome of their projects doesn’t particularly resonate with them. Instead, youth may be more motivated to use the Toolkit if it is presented as a way to learn skills that they can put on their resumes and on future college applications.

Rad Resource: USDA wants other nonprofit organizations to use the Toolkit to monitor and measure outcomes of their youth-driven community projects. Here’s the link to download a copy for yourself www.ruralyouth.org.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our YFE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “YFE Week: Melanie Hwalek on Youth Leading Community Change”

  1. Annelise Carleton-Hug

    This sounds like a wonderful resource, but I was unable to locate it on the website provided. Is there an updated link/location where I can find the “Youth Leading Community Change: An Evaluation Toolkit”? Thanks so much!

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