Before we delve into this fascinating and important part of Y.O.U.’s operations, let’s start with the basics:
It stands for Learning. Evaluation. Data.
Data is any piece of information that provides us insight into the youth we serve. It could be a record of the past Y.O.U. services they utilized, information about barriers they face, or demographic information: where they live, where they go to school.
As an organization, we collect all kinds of data.
We collect data so we can build programs and activities that make sense for the youth we serve, so our staff can make informed decisions and improvements to our existing programs and activities, and sometimes, we collect data because our funders require we do it to show our programs help our region’s youth in the ways we proposed it would.
The L.E.D. team learns from conversations with Y.O.U. staff, and it also teaches our staff how to interpret the information it collects about aspects of our participants’ experiences. This information allows our staff to do our work — plan programs and activities, determine how we go about our interactions with participants — more thoughtfully and intentionally.
As an example, the L.E.D. team builds programs within Apricot. It periodically meets with case managers and career coaches to discuss whether the database meets their needs: Is it easy to use? Can staff access information about participants when they need it? If it seems changes are necessary to make database more useable, the L.E.D. team adjusts it.
As another example of the L.E.D. team’s work, it analyzed which participants in Y.O.U. school programs were on track to graduate. It then provided the information to career coaches, who used it to identify which students needed extra support.
And the L.E.D. team does more than work with data about participants, it also conducts research to help Y.O.U. leadership make internal decisions. We switched to Salesforce, a customer relationship management system, because L.E.D. research indicated it would be best suited to our organization’s needs.
Evaluation involves measuring an activity or program’s success, and, ideally, it begins the day planning begins, and it continues throughout the program or activity.
When evaluation begins in early stages, it allows the L.E.D. team to understand the impact of a program or activity. It can accurately measure the change that happened — or didn’t happen — and our staff can adjust as necessary to make programs and activities stronger and serve our participants and staff better.
Now that you know a bit about the L.E.D. team’s work, let’s learn from a few members of the team about why do they do what they do:
Alicia Arends, a Learning and Evaluation Specialist, shared that ultimately everything we do comes back to how to best serve the youth. “I started caring about data because I had a great mentor in college who taught me anything you’re advocating for, you should be able to back up with research.”
“I like trying to remove bias from results of programming, so we can see what works,” said Heather Pollack, Y.O.U.’s Manager of Evaluation and Learning.
"I have always had a tender place in my heart for under-resourced youth," said Harlee Floyd, Y.O.U. Data and Evaluation Specialist. "I was blessed during incredibly hard losses in my life, and I want to be a blessing for youth who feel they need someone, too. To be able to use my education in a way to validate their struggles, inform people of their struggles and implement change is incredibly fulfilling to me."
Our C.E.O., Craig, also had thoughts on their work:
“L.E.D. is a critical team that supports a Y.O.U. Core Value, Continuous Improvement — without its work to help us evaluate all aspects of our work, we would not be able to consistently articulate what we learn.”
Thank you, L.E.D. Team, for all you do to help us grow and improve every day, and thank you for making it possible to allow the entire team to serve our region’s youth as best we can.