This spring, Sharon Ballard, associate professor of child development and family relations, asked her master’s level students in Program Planning & Evaluation for Child and Family Services to tackle an important issue that each member of the class will face as professionals in organizations and human service agencies serving children, families, and older adults.
Ballard’s students will become administrators and practitioners in settings such as schools, adoption agencies, juvenile services, family life education programs, parent education programs, eldercare programs, early intervention programs, recreation programs for children and youth, and other non-profit and non-governmental organizations of all kinds.
Ballard knows that her students will be expected to evaluate the effectiveness of programs they oversee and that evaluation can be the toughest part of the job.
“It’s not good enough today for an organization to think that because they have served a hundred people they are successful,” said Ballard. “Today’s funding sources want to see outcomes. They want to know that an agency has made a difference in people’s lives, and they want to see measurable outcomes.”
Consequently, Ballard immersed her students in what she calls “authentic learning” by asking them to become “consultants” to STRIVE, a Greenville non-profit concerned with job training and placement for youth and adults. STRIVE recently began activities on the Pitt County Re-Entry Program funded by the Governor’s Crime Commission to help ex-offenders transition successfully from prison to the community. When Joyce Jones, STRIVE executive director, contacted Ballard for help in assessing the program’s outcomes, Ballard turned her students loose on the project.
“Project Re-Entry presented the perfect opportunity for me to introduce logic models to my students. Many funders, including the United Way, require funding recipients to submit logic models on a regular basis,” said Ballard. “Logic models help organizations evaluate programs to see if they are having the intended effect.”
Logic models are visual maps depicting how resources and activities are used to bring about the desired change in participants. Different logic models exist, but essentially they are used to record inputs (investment in the program), outputs (activities and stake holders), and outcomes/impact (short range and long range achievements).
The students worked with Joyce Jones and the program coordinator to understand all aspects of Project Re-Entry. They researched best practices and intended outcomes for offender re-entry programs and appropriate logic models. Professor Ballard also engaged John Kerbs, associate professor of criminal justice, as a consultant on offender re-entry programs. Dr. Kerbs led the class in a lively discussion of “Risk, Need, & Responsivity: Reintegrating State Prisoners in Pitt County, NC.” At the end of the semester, the students proposed a logic model that they believed would be the best evaluation tool for Project Re-Entry.
“Input from the students was extremely helpful,” said Joyce Jones. “The students’ research helped us identify a logic model that makes sense for Project Re-Entry. The Governor’s Crime Commission grant is just a seed grant. We’ll have to find other funding to sustain the program after that grant. The students’ logic model will become an excellent tool for us to track outcomes. Potential funders will be more inclined to fund our proposal if we can show them measurable outcomes. Going forward, I’ll be using logic models not only for project Re-Entry but for all of our programs at STRIVE.”