February 11, 2021

2021 Virtual National Mentoring Summit Presentation Takeaways

Using Empowerment Evaluation to Strengthen Inclusiveness, Team Engagement, and Program Effectiveness

Friends of the Children’s Erica Reid, M. Ed., National Director of Programs, and Dr. Sam McQuillin, Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina, presented a workshop at MENTOR’s 2021 Virtual National Mentoring Summit, “Using Empowerment Evaluation to Strengthen Inclusiveness, Team Engagement, and Program Effectiveness,” on Thursday, January 28, 2021.

Dr. McQuillin is leading an intentional organizational Quality Improvement (QI) project to strengthen the quality of Friends of the Children’s staff training, supervision, and support to improve youth development outcomes for the children served across our network. During the presentation, Dr. McQuillin shared, “Friends of the Children hires ‘unicorns’ – extraordinarily gifted and talented Friends who are doing a little bit of everything.”

A key piece of the QI project is the concept of Empowerment Evaluation, “an evaluation approach that aims to increase the likelihood that programs will achieve results by increasing the capacity of program stakeholders to plan, implement, and evaluate their own programs” (Wandersman et. Al, 2005).

Dr. McQuillin introduced principles of Empowerment Evaluation (EE), including:

  • Social Justice: Evaluation should be used to address social inequities within the organization and society
  • Community Knowledge: People who do the work, know the work. The experiences of those who provide and receive services are legitimate sources of knowledge
  • Scientific Knowledge: Systematic research studies that involve rigorous designs and analysis are considered legitimate knowledge
  • Capacity Building: Leaving systems, not reports. EE is focused on creating organizational capacity to foster continuous quality improvement
  • Organizational learning: Data should be sought after to inform practices, decisions and course corrections
  • Accountability: A focus on outcomes and accountability within the context of policies and standards. Are we achieving objectives?

Given the 27-year history of our program model that is data-informed and research-based, continuous quality improvement work is a logical next step on our journey as we maintain high quality and expand to 25 locations by 2025. The QI process is scalable, democratic, safe, realistic and inclusive of voices in different roles from across our network: Friends who deliver direct services, Program Managers, National and Executive Leadership, and youth and caregivers in the program. The process is built on equity and accountability, bringing multiple stakeholders to the table and ensuring that voices from across our organization are treated as equal.

Through the QI process, we have identified the training needs for our teams and are building them into a learning management system , which we call our Friends Learning Academy. As we continue to grow as a network, the Friends Learning Academy (FLA) provides a portal for online learning and professional development opportunities, which are useful given the limitations and restrictions of training during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other features of the FLA are the ability to coach and share best practices and leverage the incredible expertise of individuals across our network through an “Ask an Expert” function.

We were incredibly honored to be selected to present at the Summit and grateful for the participation of those who attended the session. We look forward to continuing to share the progress of our QI journey and hope you’ll join us at next year’s MENTOR Summit.

Dr. Sam McQuillin is a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina where he leads the Youth Empowerment in Schools and Systems Lab, which has a focus on youth mentoring. Dr. McQuillin is also a contributor to the National Mentoring Resource Center and presenter at the annual Mentoring Research Symposium.

Erica Reid has a personal mission of “serving youth, supporting families, and strengthening communities.” For nearly 15 years, she has devoted her career to educating and empowering both youth and adult learners in a variety of settings including homes, preschool classrooms, and college lecture halls. Prior to joining the National team, Erica served as a preschool teacher, Parent Educator, Family Support Specialist, and Interim Director of Family Education Services. In 2018, Erica was selected as Friends-Charlotte’s first Program Director. Her extensive work with caregivers is critical in supporting the expansion of Friends of the Children’s Two-Generation (2Gen) model.