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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
implementation, operation, and costs. Such information can be used to produce process evaluations and cost studies and to provide performance monitoring. Findings from these analyses can stimulate communication about program goals, progress, obstacles, and results among program managers, staff, participants, funders, and others.
The “developmental quality” of a youth program may be defined as the extent to which it provides a social setting and a set of activities that should facilitate positive youth development. Developmental quality is the key characteristic that a program can directly control via its internal activities. It must attend to the developmental quality of youth experiences, regardless of the specific activities (e.g., mentoring, peer tutoring, theater productions, team sports) it sponsors. Based on regular assessments of developmental quality, a program can engage in dynamic reflective practice to fine-tune its service delivery and management practices. If so indicated, it can take corrective steps to align activities with the model on which the program is premised. To produce useful process evaluations, performance monitoring, and self-assessment, youth development programs therefore need valid, reliable indicators of the developmental quality of the experiences they provide.
Indicators of developmental quality are important for a second reason. Because of their small size, informal nature, and limited resources, many youth development programs will never undergo a rigorous impact evaluation using control or comparison groups, nor will they obtain high-quality data on developmental or long-term outcomes of the youth they serve. For such programs, information about long-term outcomes over which they may exert influence but cannot directly or fully control (e.g., school completion, good character, civic involvement) does not provide a good standard for program accountability. Rather, indicators of the developmental quality of the program necessarily provide the key information for judging whether it is likely to have positive effects on youth development. If the program’s model is valid and data on the developmental quality of its activities indicate that it provides a setting and a set of activities that facilitate positive youth development, one may reasonably conclude that the program contributes to positive youth development.
That is, when good impact data are not going to be available, indicators of the developmental quality of a program’s activities provide a fair mechanism for holding it accountable for what it can best control. This is an important use of such indicators besides the short-term feedback they can provide about program operation. Hence, we focus discussion