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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
need valid, reliable indicators of the developmental quality of the experiences they provide. The evaluation research community, working with practitioners, needs to build on recent progress made in improving the quality and scope of these indicators. Research is needed to determine whether appropriate indicators vary depending on the characteristics of the specific youth population served by a program. As understanding of the determinants of positive youth development improves, the indicators should be periodically revisited and, if necessary, revised. To this end, methods for collecting information on individual youth participation in one or more community programs also require development and implementation. At a minimum, youth-serving organizations should track individuals’ attendance and their involvement in specific activities. Data on individuals’ participation across programs and in informal activities that affect developmental assets can be gathered and incorporated into basic and evaluation research.
Geographic information system databases can greatly enhance the utility of social indicator data for community programs for youth by allowing users to draw on multiple data sources to pinpoint areas of need at the neighborhood level. This is particularly important to community programs for youth, which often serve particular neighborhoods within the larger community. An increasing number of communities are putting their data into GIS systems, and some, like those participating in the National Neighborhood Indicators Project, are making them available to all community organizations. Funding to optimize systems in communities with functioning GIS systems will support the needs of local community programs for youth by increasing the relevant data available through the system and the ease with which it can be accessed.
Many community programs also lack staff knowledge and the funds to take full advantage of social indicators as tools to aid in planning, monitoring, assessing, and improving program activities. Individual programs and communities would benefit from opportunities to increase their capacity to collect and use social indicator data. Greater access to professional knowledge and advice on data and measurement issues, via the Internet and through individual consultation, will allow community programs for youth to be more effective and efficient as they design their own monitoring and evaluation strategies. This will require support from funders to develop the internal expertise and external consultants needed. National and local intermediaries, like the Center for Youth Development, and state organizations, like the Indiana Youth Institute, also pro-