Building Theory of Change and Supporting Data Systems for YouthPlaces

YouthPlaces (YP) is an after-school youth development program serving high-risk youth between the ages of 12-18 years. It is a community rooted program serving over 6000 youth across 17 program sites housed throughout Allegheny County.

YP collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh (OCD and Department of Applied Developmental Psychology) to build a conceptual model of their operations, also known as a Theory of Change (TOC). The TOC developed was a product of three evaluation planning activities: review of past YP evaluations; research review on setting level features promoting positive youth development; and interviews of YP staff and youth participants. The resulting TOC provides a roadmap illustrating why the program offers the activities it does, why the program is expected to work, and what outcomes are expected as a result of sustained participation in YP programming.

Having theories, informed both by research and practice, about the inner workings of YP programming equips the program to test out these theories through evaluation. Using the TOC as a framework, existing program data can be dissected to determine what data is available to inform various aspects of the model and analyzed to determine what the data says about how well the model is working at both a system and a site level. These activities will not only inform every day programming at YP, but can also be utilized to identify areas for program improvement.

For more information, please contact Joan Eichner, Director of Applied Research and Evaluation, at 412.383.1310 or