From Relationships to Results: Data-Driven Goals at Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland

It all begins with: “How was your day?” or “What has your brother been up to since graduation?” It has been countlessly demonstrated to me that staff at Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland (BGCP) understand the value of showing interest, engagement, and genuine investment in the lives of their members. They are constantly evaluating the quality and successes of their programs to identify possible improvements and innovation.

As a part of their commitment to quality programming, BGCP strives to be a leading data-driven organization in the field of youth nonprofits. During my time as a Fellow with Future Leaders in Action, I had the opportunity to work closely with Kaitlin Cobb, a member of the Program Leadership Team, to identify an appropriate assessment tool for young children that would provide valid and comparative data.

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We wanted to assess character development and key social-emotional indicators in, both, members who participated in the Youth Volunteerism initiative I helped launch, and Club members across the board. We chose to use the Social Emotional Character Development Scale (SECDS), originally created through a collaboration between Oregon State University and University of Illinois at Chicago with researchers Brian R. Flay, David L. DuBois, and Peter Ji. 

At the beginning of the program year in September 2015, BGCP Clubs issued the SECDS to all available members in first through sixth grade. A post-assessment at the end of the program year will also take place for three consecutive years to collect a solid range of data. The scale grouped answers together to identify factors such as pro-social behavior, honesty, self-development, self-control, respect at home, and respect at school. The SECDS was designed on a Likert scale with answer options ranging from: NO!, no, yes, YES!

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Across the board, member responses were relatively consistent, with many more answering YES! and yes than NO!. This potentially speaks to the current quality of programming at Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland. However, I feel that, after having a hand in administering the SECDS and entering all assessments into our electronic database, some of the questions might have been more advanced than younger members were developmentally capable of considering. It often required the staff administering surveys to stray from the assessment script in order to get valid answers out of first and second graders. 

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In the future, we might more closely consider seeking out a different assessment tool that is more age appropriate for our youngest members. However, in our initial research, we found it incredibly challenging to find any affordable assessment tools for children below third grade. The desire to measure valid outcomes in our youngest members is another possible point for reconsideration.

Having the privilege to play a role in BGCP’s strategic data collection during my fellowship was a large point of growth for me. I was introduced to the many components of quality outcome measurement, from muddling through Developmental Psychology research journals to comparing copyrights, pricing, and methods of administration. I had the opportunity to think critically about the impact of specific programming and how to translate that data into focus areas for program improvement as well as grant reporting and community sharing.