By Guest Blogger Jason Spector, Policy Studies Associates
We are entering a holiday season unlike any other, with limited gatherings and far too many empty seats at the table. Out-of-school-time (OST) staff, youth, and families face deep grief, challenge and uncertainty. It is not a time where program evaluation is at the forefront of our minds, and when evaluation does come to the fore in the OST field, it is often in the context of service gaps, disparities, and young people’s learning losses. These are all too real and point to the deep challenges of this era, from the disparate educational and health impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color to the mounting academic learning loss that is inextricably connected to race and class across the country. 2020 is a year of intersecting health, economic, education, and racial justice crises; it is also the year where resilience has shone through and there is much to express gratitude for and celebrate in the OST field and beyond.
Asset-based evaluation can be a helpful, and hopeful, approach during this time and into the future.
What do we mean when we say asset-based evaluation? Consider the definition from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health: “Asset-based approaches emphasize the need to redress the balance between meeting needs and nurturing the strengths and resources of people and communities. They are ways of valuing and building on the skills, successes and strengths of individuals and communities, which focus on the positive capacity of individuals and communities rather than solely on their needs, deficits and problems. These assets can act as the foundation from which to build a positive future.” In short, assets do not diminish problems and needs, but they do serve as a broadened foundation upon which to build an evaluation strategy.
How can an asset-based evaluation approach help address your organizational needs during COVID-19? Here are some helpful tips to get started:
As you consider taking one or more steps toward an asset-based evaluation approach, be mindful of evaluation overload. It may be preferable to do fewer things and do them well during this time. Accordingly, be cognizant of matching your evaluation strategy to your organizational needs and capacity, so that asset-based evaluation doesn’t become ‘just one more thing.’ And as you dive in, please share your examples of how you practice gratitude and/or asset-based evaluation—I am grateful for, and look forward to, learning alongside you.
Jason Spector is a Senior Research Associate at Policy Studies Associates. He formerly served as the Senior Director of Strategy and Evaluation at After-School All-Stars. Jason recently authored a chapter in the new book Measure, Use, Improve! Data Use in OST! titled “What’s Your Why? Matching Evaluation Approach to Organizational Need.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.