The Fault In Our Stats: Getting to OK in Teen and Tween Program Evaluation Without Numbers

Heather Booth
Andrea Sowers
Regina Townsend

You’re not the only one who puts teen program stats together each month and then hears a sad trombone once you see them stacked up next to the stats for children’s programs or adult events. It’s a common problem, and perhaps even more discouraging because attendance stats only show one part of the equation. Successful teen programming isn’t just about a head count. We all know that. But codifying that in a meaningful way so that we can communicate it to our managers and other stakeholders is a challenge.

In late October, the three of us discussed a solution to this–using the 40 Developmental Assets as a program planning and evaluation tool–in a panel presentation for the Illinois Library Association’s Library State of Mind conference.

So what exactly are the 40 Developmental Assets?

Heather: The 40 Developmental Assets are “building blocks of healthy development”: an organized framework of attributes that, when present in a teen’s life, are exceedingly effective in predicting a positive outcome. Teens with more Assets in their lives are more likely to do well in school, avoid drug and alcohol abuse, have fewer negative interactions with law enforcement, experience fewer depressive periods and suicide attempts, and have more confidence in the ability to persevere through difficult times.

The tool was created by the Search Institute twenty five years ago and has since been studied across a wide range of demographics, and the results bear out regardless of socioeconomic status. The assets are broken into two main groups: external assets like family support, having positive role models or a neighborhood that values youth, and internal assets like honesty, a sense of purpose, and peaceful conflict resolution skills.

This all may seem far removed from your mandala coloring night or Divergent party, but it’s not. Our programs have the ability to bring these assets into the lives of our teens. While it would be great if all of our programs brought in fifty teens who had amazing, affirming, life-changing experiences every time, the fact is some programs just work better with smaller numbers – and that’s ok! No one can reasonably tell me that the program about what to do when someone you love has cancer was a less valuable program for the two who came than the annual gingerbread challenge that fills with a waiting list. One is not better than the other, but they speak to different needs. Aligning them with Assets in an evaluation helps to show that while one might have a higher headcount, the other was higher in Assets provided.

Sounds great.

How do I explain it to my Manager or my Board?

Andrea: Sooo, we absolutely NOT saying that stats aren’t important.  Seriously, I’m probably the biggest stat queen you’ll meet. I literally track almost every little thing that I can when it comes to the teen department. Each year I keep an excel sheet with at least 9 different tabs. I track how the numbers are year to year, how repeating programs go from month to month, I’ve even started to track how my days are broken down. I’d be lying if I said analyzing stats didn’t make me giddy. I LOVE seeing if there are patterns to it all. We want you to start looking BEYOND the stats though.

The trick is to starting small. Maybe it’s something simple as when you’re working on a report to your supervisor or board. Instead of just listing your programs and their stats you take a new spin on how to present it through narrative. For example, you can talk about how the teens helping each other in a craft program demonstrates leadership skills, responsibility, and caring for their fellow teen. In your report you can bold those skills they learned during a program.

They don’t have to know you’re talking about the 40 developmental assets, but showing what skills they’re learning will help put it in a new light. The more you discuss your programs in this way the easier it’ll be for your superiors to see that teen programs are more than just numbers.

We know we’re making this sound easier than it is. Retraining thinking is hard, even I’ll admit this is sometimes hard for myself as well. When I see a program only had 4 teens, it’s so easy to call it an instant failure, but the truth is it’s not. While eventually we’d like you to apply the assets to all your programs, we know it’s easier to do ones you’d normally deem a failure.

So what does an asset-filled program look like?

Honestly, an asset-filled program looks just like the programs you already do.  Assets are EVERYWHERE!  You don’t have to change much of what you do, just the way you look at it.


Regina: I have a monthly podcast that my teens produce.  I was so excited about the idea, and thought I was going to have to stop the hordes of teens from breaking down the door!  So imagine my surprise when my attendance finally settled on a smooth TWO participants. (sad emoji).  In looking at the numbers, I was extremely disappointed, but when I looked at it again through my Developmental Asset lenses, I was able to see that those two teens have gained a huge amount of takeaways from the club, even with there being just two participants.  I’ve also begun to identify ways that the assets they gain from producing the podcast, transfer to their behavior in other areas and programs in the library.

External Assets: Other adult relationships, Caring neighborhood ,Community values youth
Youth As Resources, Services to Others, Neighborhood boundaries, Adult role models, Positive peer influence, High Expectations ,Creative Activities

Internal Assets: Achievement motivation, Equality and Social Justice, Bonding to School, Caring, Cultural Competence, Personal Power, Responsibility, Planning and decision making, Interpersonal competence, Integrity, Honesty, Peaceful Conflict Resolution, Self-Esteem, Sense of Purpose, Positive View of Personal Future


Tracking and Planning

Participation Surveys - 40 Dev Assets - Planning and Tracking Form


Regina: For planning purposes, I  put together this handy sheet to help me take note of what assets I feel a program may reach.  This will help me to go back later and see how many assets our teen programs have effectively reached over the course of a month or quarter.

For feedback, I really like the idea of putting the power back in the hands of young people themselves.  These few terms can help teens identify their feelings from having participated in library programs.  Feel free to make up your own, these are just a few I played around with.

As for the feedback forms themselves, one is a basic feedback form that just asks teens what their favorite part of the program was.  Often, you can determine what asset was achieved by seeing what their biggest takeaway was.  A teen who says their favorite part was when they created something to take home could really be saying that they felt their time was used constructively.   You can also gamify the assets by giving away prizes for feedback received.  Quick little surveys may get completed more often when there’s the chance for a free book or other giveaway.

Sample Participation Surveys for Developmental Asset Tracking!


Sample Terminologies

Participation Surveys - 40 Dev Assets - BASICParticipation Surveys - 40 Dev Assets - Gamified Feedback

Create a culture of assets in your library with asset swag!

SearchInstitute and other companies have some great tools available for those wishing to make the assets a visible and vibrant part of their library community!  One library ordered silicone wristbands in the colors of the various assets to give out to teens.  If you have a button maker, the asset icons also look great on a 1″ button.  Seeing those familiar icons and colors begin to grow in your library will not only get people asking about them, but also instill a sense of pride and goal-setting in those who are achieving them.  Consider purchasing a few decks of “Positive Value Cards” and encourage teens to collect them.  There’s tons of ways to make the assets a part of your library’s culture.

0543-W-2T 97815748225020372-W-2 0372-W-3

However you choose to use the Developmental Assets in your library, we want you to remember, if that program you spent weeks working on only got 2 participants, but those 2 learned valuable and transferable skills that they will have with them FOREVER, then you had a successful program.

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