Guest Post - Measuring Progress Toward Youth Empowerment
In June, CIRCLE launched a new initiative to connect research and practice by hosting conversations fueled by views from the field. We were thrilled by the response to our first call for interest on guest posts about impact measures. Below is the fifth post in this series, which lays out how one program evaluation system collects multiple types of impact data about youth empowerment. Please also see the first, second, third, and fourth posts.
Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) is a national nonprofit organization committed to creating a society where empowered high school-aged youth work alongside adults to create just and thriving communities. To accomplish this, YES! a) developed the YES! Youth Empowerment Model® (The Model) to guide the organization, b) hires high-school aged students as paid employees, and c) focuses on advocacy to obtain policy, systems, and environmental changes. Youth staff are also part of organizational committee work, fundraising, professional development, strategizing, and outcomes collection and analysis.
YES! adult and youth staff developed a Youth Empowerment Model as a way to implement and measure youth empowerment.1 The Model is a three-pronged approach that challenges youth to develop skills, gain critical awareness for a deeper understanding of the issues and solutions, and participate in opportunities that create community change. YES! adult staff provide training and consulting to adults on youth empowerment, and YES! youth staff provide training to youth on advocacy and action planning.
YES! tracks the impact of The Model with its youth staff employees through a focus on:
- Skill Development – YES! youth staff build professional and leadership skills, such as public speaking, group facilitation, goal setting, and data analysis.
- Critical Awareness – Youth staff are guided to become critical thinkers through media and marketing deconstruction, analysis of the sociopolitical context framing health issues, and discussions of equity and social justice.
- Opportunities – Youth staff are empowered to take action on a variety of issues to create community change. Actions include becoming media advocates, organizing campaigns, designing petitions and community surveys, and meeting with policymakers. In addition, high school-aged youth staff train young people in other communities to advocate for positive change.
YES! reaches out to training participants immediately after the training to track their gains. Specifically, training participants are asked what new information or skills they learned at the training and how they plan to use these new skills and knowledge in the next 30-60 days.
Then, 30-60 days later, YES! contacts training participants to ask whether they have been able to take action with these new skills and to share examples of these actions.
Finally, six months later, YES! returns to the participants to track the types of change that have taken place and the number of people impacted by those changes. This outcomes framework measures the number of policy, systems, and environmental changes, and the impact of these changes, by estimating the number of lives that are directly affected.
As the high school-aged youth staff graduate and transition to careers, school, and/or family, YES! collects annual data to learn about how the graduated youth staff continue to utilize their skill development, critical awareness, and opportunities.2
Youth play a key role in changing their communities. Through their employment and training with YES!, they are able to greatly increase the scale at which the change is made. By utilizing an outcomes and advocacy framework, the impact of youth empowerment can be viewed in a practical and far-reaching way. Youth and adults build their own capacity for empowerment and partnership while also positively impacting the lives of the organizations and communities in which they live and work.
 Youth Empowerment: The Theory and Its Implementation- http://www.youthempoweredsolutions.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Youth_Empowerment_The_Theory_and_Its_Implementation_YES-11-13-13.pdf
 YES! 2015 Annual Report – http://www.youthempoweredsolutions.org/?s=YES%21+Annual+Report