Program Research & Development

General - Kids at camp

Photo from Frontier Lodge

From clarify of purpose to impact measurement

We have long understood that our programs have a positive impact on the young people we serve. Being able to provide meaningful data that demonstrates that impact is another story! Whether we are marketing to parents during tight financial times, or seeking funding for non-profit programs, the need to measure and communicate impact has never been more important.

Further, understanding impact gives us the information we need to effectively improve our programs. The information below is from the ACA Conference workshop “Program Research & Development” presented by Heather Bates. It will walk you through important connections between different aspects of program development. From clarifying purpose to establishing an outcomes logic model to measuring and communicating impact.

The Canadian Summer Camp Research Project

The Canadian Summer Camp Research Project was a 5 year study that provides documented proof that camp does have a positive influence on the development of young people.  The project was conducted by the Canadian Camping Association’s National Research Committee and the University of Waterloo and consisted of three phases.  The study focuses on different groups involved in the summer camp experience including:  camp directors, current campers and camper alumni.  

The study showed children and youth experienced positive development in the following areas:  social integration and citizenship, environmental awareness, self-confidence and personal development, emotional intelligence and attitudes towards physical activity. 

We can use this data to market out camps to parents and funders. How can we utilize the findings of this study to enhance our camp programming?

Determining Program Outcomes

At Tim Horton’s Children’s Foundation camps, they aim to have their programs teach children about being responsible, motivated and caring. They hope that their campers, who come from homes with financial and social difficulties, will obtain life skills related to these areas and bring them back into their regular home and community lives. The big message is that if young people are responsible, caring and motivated they will be more likely to achieve academic success, demonstrate resiliency in the face of life challenges, contribute positively in the community and the break the poverty cycle.

What is the big message you want to say or the big goal you want to achieve with your campers and how can you do that through your programming?

Creating a Camp Culture

General - Girls at Camp - CCA PhotoYou can create a positive camp culture that will help you reach your goals. It’s important to create a camp culture document that states exactly who you are as a camp and what you want to embody. A camp culture should provide:

  • Relationship and connections
  • meaningful participation and purpose
  • learning opportunities
  • boundaries and expectations
  • constructive use of time

Structured environments that make young people feel safe, secure and valued and they set positive, high expectations that challenge young people. The campers are encouraged to ask questions, play an active role in setting boundaries and are challenged to grow as individuals and are celebrated for doing so. They are called by their first name by staff members, feel safe at camp and that camp is their own space away from home. You campers should feel welcome, they should know that they belong, where they need to go and what to do at camp. How can you do that?

Have an intentional activity plan. Take archery for example. When kids come to archery, what happens when they get there? What sets them up for success? What discussions are you having during the activity that embodies your programming goals and your camp’s culture? What questions can you ask to really drive home that experience?

Use outcome achievement tools. Tim Horton camps have used GR8 beads to make bracelets for their campers. Campers have the opportunity to earn beads to add to their bracelet throughout the camp experience. Different coloured beads could represent things like goal setting, peace, relationships, teamwork, challenges, responsibility, motivation, reflection, etc. Another idea is to have a “Caught you caring!” wall. Have a poster on the wall and people can write down examples of when they see someone doing something caring. “Jenny helped Susan find her camera this morning. That was nice of her!”

Program Improvement and Measuring Impact

Are we doing what we set up to do? How can we get better? How do we tell our story?

Develop short-term measurement tools that you can implement while your campers are at camp. They will help you to understand what kids are learning and feeling as a result of their time at camp.

Long-term measurement tools help us understand how values, assets and skills campers gain at camp transfer to life at home and in their communities. You can implement these measurement tools after the campers have returned home, about 4-6 weeks after camp.

Measuring Short-Term Impact at Camp

Tim Horton camps measure short term impact but conducting informal inquiry interviews with campers near the end of their experience at camp. Watching the videos of these interviews allows them to go through the data and see repeats of what kids have said. This measurement tool allows you to see what kids are latching onto and what they’re not. Then you can go back to your program and make adjustments.

This type of appreciative inquiry is a strength-based, open ended positive approach to evaluation. It focuses on their perspective and lets them share what really matters to them. This whole process reinforces learning, gathers insight, examine results and utilize that information. Here are some examples of questions you can ask the campers:

  • What does camp mean to you? Tell me about something you did at camp that you never did before?
  • Tell me about something you accomplished at camp?
  • Tell me something you learned about yourself at camp?
  • What will you remember most about camp?

Once all that information is analyzed you can see where you’re really strong with kids. They speak a lot about getting to know people, trying hard at things that are hard and having fun.  Look at the things they are not learning and think about how you can structure your activities to tackle those items.

Learning from these interviews allows you to see obvious connections with short term outcomes. For example, rock climbing is often linked to goal setting and perseverance. Provide a forum to sharing and a deeper insight into camper experience. You might learn that a camper was being bullied or had a negative experience. Campers also talk a lot of their relationships with other campers and how important it is to them.

Measuring Long-Term Impact After Camp

Sending out easy online survey to parents 4-6 weeks after their child returns home from camp is a good tool for measuring immediate longer-term outcomes of your camp programming. You can use a free survey program like Survey Monkey. Review and analyze the responses and then send a follow up. You can use this data to implement improvements to your programming.

It also gives a great opportunity to follow up with parents. It also shows you things you need to look into and change, how you can structure activity and end-of-day debriefs to support transfer of learning. It might also identify a need for a tool to help parents support transfer of camp learning with campers.

This whole process allows you to look at your entire program and see what it is you’re doing that is STRONG and what you could change to make it better.

Categories: Aca Annual Conference, Programs, Research