This is how my internship search went: Job Title: “Program Evaluation”...Location “NO PREFERENCE” - That’s how this Texas lady finds herself the perfect internship, in Des Moines, Iowa. As random as it may seem, the Program Evaluation fellowship with Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa (BGCCI) checked both my boxes for what I wanted out of my summer:
To explore a new city; and
To gain experience in non-profit program evaluation
I specifically sought out a Program Evaluation position because, as I see it, it’s a job and skill set that sits right at the intersection of the two areas I’m studying for my dual-Master program. I’m studying Public Health, with UT Health, and Public Affairs, at the University of Texas at Austin (hook em!). To do program evaluation well, you have to gather and analyze data, a skill I practice a lot in my Public Health classes, and translate that data into actionable steps for greater program impact; my Public Affairs courses focus on learning about how systems and policies impact the community.
This summer, I will be implementing program evaluation plans at each of the five club sites in Des Moines. I’m getting just the experience I was seeking out - and coming up against some challenges along the way.
For one, BGCCI currently serves about 1,200 club members at the existing 5 sites, but in just a few years there will be eight sites and 4,000 club members! The team is running at full steam, so introducing process changes, especially ones that involve “data”, may face some resistance. Second, admittedly, “data” tends to be perceived as scary, burdensome, or complicated - often, all three at once.
From the very get-go, I’ve worked to make sure this plan and the tools I build are amplifying the voices of everyone impacted by the program.
These challenges are far from unique to Boys and Girls Clubs, so I thought it’d be helpful to share three key things I’m trying to keep in mind as I step into my “data advocate” role and create evaluation plans that will help BGCCI have a deeper impact.
1. The process should be INCLUSIVE.
From the very get-go, I’ve worked to make sure this plan and the tools I build are amplifying the voices of everyone impacted by the program. So far, I’ve observed each of the 5 sites, to get a better understanding of their nuances, and there are many. I’ve also been meeting with the leadership teams at the sites and plan on doing youth focus groups. As complicated as it can be to involve so many different groups, none of these perspectives can be ignored if the plan is going to be fully embraced.
2. The results should be ACCESSIBLE.
Data and evaluation are topics that are easily siloed, especially in non-profits where everyone has a lot on their plate. This plan will look a bit different. Every step, from setting goals to receiving results of surveys, will be shareable to everyone in the organization that wants to see it. Sharing the data means that youth know that they are being heard, staff can make data-informed decisions everyday, and management can pivot strategy and distribute resources effectively - altogether, the program will be stronger.
3. The plan should be SUSTAINABLE.
I’ll be keeping in mind the whole time that the fast growth of the organization means added demands on each position and constant change. To make sure my plan can continue to suite the needs of the organization I’ll work to make sure the goals keep the growth in mind and that action plans are adaptable to the inevitable changes that will arise. If I’m a good data-advocate, this plan will be seen as a way to control the chaos of an organization in flux by capturing action plans and organizing insights.
Creating an evaluation plan for BGCCI certainly has its challenges, but if I am able to design a plan that’s informed by all parties, embraced and shared, and flexible to the organization’s needs, I’m confident that I won’t be the only data-advocate in the building when I head back to Austin in August.