On Slowing Down to Get Ahead

Valerie Sedivy

Valerie Sedivy

Summer is a time when many of us have traditionally tried to slow down. We know intuitively that we need to recharge and reflect, both personally and professionally. Summer can be a time when you slow down and take a close look at your plans to implement programs with youth, so you can be sure you are using or recommending the right programs for your group.

But have you ever ended up rushing to select a program before you’ve taken the time to reflect on whether it really is the right program for the group you’re trying to serve? Or have you used the same program year after year without confirming that it’s working? I know I have been in this situation, and I also know that there are many good reasons why this happens. Funders want lots of youth served ASAP, and we worry about losing momentum if we don’t get going right away. But many of us have also seen consequences of rushing in with a program that doesn’t quite fit—youth don’t react in positive ways to the program, implementation is spotty, and results of evaluations are lackluster.

I’d like to suggest that this summer is a perfect time to enlist your colleagues in an effort to reflect on the programs you are implementing or helping others to implement. Are the programs a good match with the characteristics of the population you are trying to serve? (Have you checked those characteristics lately to make sure they haven’t changed?) How has the program been received in the past? Do youth stop coming after one or two sessions? What do the facilitators think of the program? How would they like to see it improve? Are there other issues that need to be addressed (like trauma, access to care, or substance use, just to name a few) so that your pregnancy/STI/HIV message can get through?

Why do this in summer? One reason is that you may be able to get better feedback from youth, who are less likely to be busy with academics or other school-related activities. Another reason is that summer is a time when program directors and administrators are in planning mode; decisions about programs to offer in the next academic year are getting finalized now.

Healthy Teen Network can help you to reflect on your programs in a systematic way. Those of you who have been connected with our organization for awhile know we use the Getting to Outcomes (GTO) framework to help organizations select, implement, evaluate, and sustain programs. Even if you just use this framework to check for fit or conduct continuous quality improvement (CQI), you will be taking a step toward making sure you’ve got a program in place that actually makes a difference in the lives of the youth you want to serve.

What has been your experience with reflecting on programs you have in place? Is it challenging to make it happen? Has it ever resulted in positive changes?

Valerie Sedivy, PhD, is a Senior Project Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

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