Evaluating Youth Wellbeing

YouthREX defines program evaluation as:

“A systematic set of activities carried out towards understanding how, why, and to what extent a youth program is achieving its processes and outcomes towards improving the wellbeing of young people”.

Evaluation findings are specific to a specific group of youth experiencing a specific condition of one specific youth program over a specific time frame at a specific time.


This “specificity” is the main difference between evaluation and research.


Most youth programs already collect a lot of information that can be used for evaluation. We suggest that data collection for program evaluation should be incorporated in the ongoing record keeping of a youth program.

So what’s a youth program?

YouthREX defines a youth program broadly as:


“Any set of organized activities that is supported by a set of resources and provides a service that is focused on achieving one or more of the 20 outcomes of youth wellbeing in Ontario’s Stepping Up framework”.


Almost any youth program that is focused on one or more of the seven thematic areas in Stepping Up can be a candidate for program evaluation.

Why evaluate a youth program?

The Ontario youth sector is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of young people. Grassroots youth programs provide young people with the skills and resources they need to overcome challenging circumstances and make positive contributions to their communities.


But it can be difficult for program staff to truly understand and measure outcomes and articulate the impact of their programs to stakeholders – including parents, funders, and youth themselves.


Evaluation provides youth programs the tools to understand, measure and track if their programs are achieving their intended outcomes and impacts. Equally important,  evaluation also helps us understand exactly why/how these programs are successful and how they can be improved.


A youth program that is committed to youth wellbeing is reflective, willing to improve, change and grow and diligently ensures that its youth participants are experiencing the outcomes that the program is working towards.


Evaluation supports youth programs to do what they do, better.

Measuring Impact: Samantha Yamada at TEDxYorkU 2012

Samantha Yamada, York University Ph.D. student in the Clinical-Developmental Psychology program delivers a talk at TEDxYorkU 2012 on the theme of measuring impact to create momentum for more impact.

YouthREX’s Evaluation Framework for Youth Wellbeing

The YouthREX Evaluation Framework for Youth Wellbeing is made up of seven steps within three phases, allowing a grassroots youth program to take each step and tailor their evaluation to their needs. Earlier steps provide the evaluation process with the foundation for subsequent progress.


The Framework encourages a youth program to work through these steps in an iterative fashion and to proceed to the next step when the previous steps have been adequately explored.


We must emphasize that evaluation processes are not always linear and steps may actually need to be completed in a cyclical fashion.


The Three Evaluation Lenses

The YouthREX Framework for Evaluating Youth Wellbeing views evaluation through three lenses uniquely suited to the organizational, social and political realities that grassroots youth programs are located in.


The lenses provide youth programs with a guide on how to choose from the many evaluation options available at each step in the Framework.

A Learning Focused Lens

The first lens asks: “Will the evaluation produce insights and findings that can be used by the youth program to improve and promote youth wellbeing?”

This lens emphasizes a ‘use-oriented’ purpose of evaluation by recognizing that program evaluation for grassroots youth sector programs is better focused on improving the program than just proving the worth of the program.

Program evaluation is about developing insights and findings that a program can learn from to improve outcomes for youth – evaluation helps a program do what they do, better. 

Good’ evaluation is not just about gathering accurate evidence about how a program is achieving outcomes for youth wellbeing but ‘good’ evaluation produces findings and insights that a program can use to learn from and do it’s work better.

Social enterprise: Why we measure our social impact

A Youth-Engaged Lens

The second lens asks: “Does the evaluation meaningfully engage youth participants?”

This lens emphasizes a ‘values-oriented’ evaluation approach that recognizes that meaningfully involving youth strengthens evaluations of youth programs.

Youth engagement improves the overall quality of evaluation and benefits the wider community as a whole.

What is Youth Involvement by Mind your Mind?

A Contextualized Methods Lens

The third lens asks: “Does your evaluation methods allow you to tell rich and nuanced stories of your youth program’s processes and outcomes and does your evaluation methods acknowledge the complexity and dynamism of youth work?”

This lens emphasizes a ‘methods-oriented approach’. However, rather than privileging an experimental approach that views evaluations with a randomized control group as the gold standard of evaluation, YouthREX embraces the rich, contextual insights that mixed-methods can provide an evaluation of a youth program and recommends that evaluations of youth programs include mixed-methods and multi-sources.

You can build in rigor by having multiple lines of evidence from different methods and data sources!

What is Mixed Methods Research by John Creswell