For anyone who has attended one of our training sessions in the past few years, you’ve probably heard us talking about the importance of continuous improvement. In fact, we think it is so important that we redesigned the 4th edition of the Beyond the Bell Toolkit around the continuous improvement cycle. Why are we so focused on continuous improvement?
The idea behind continuous improvement is that afterschool and expanded learning program leaders and staff are always adjusting and improving. We start by developing a program. Once all of the policies, procedures, and staff are in place, we implement the program. After the program has had a chance to get off the ground, we evaluate the program. However, the cycle doesn’t stop there. Based on information collected in the evaluation, we then improve the program. After meeting and talking as a staff, and also involving the young people, we continue the cycle with by further developing the program based on the new information.
One of the most important parts of promoting continuous program improvement is engaging both staff members and youth, as well as families and the community. Program staff and young people offer a different perspective than the program leadership, particularly when it comes to the day-to-day operations. For example, picture a hypothetical program having a dip in attendance: Program leaders might attribute this to the program activity, while the staff members and youth know that many would-be participants are involved in soccer, which started around the same time as the dip in attendance. By involving key stakeholders in all aspects of the continuous improvement cycle, you will stay informed and ensure that programming stays relevant and engaging.
Refer to this month’s Tool of the Month, Tool 83: Determining Your Evaluation Purpose Worksheet, for ideas on how to include staff members in your evaluation process.