Note: After this week, Audacious Ideas will be on summer hiatus. We’ll return with an exciting new lineup of bloggers after Labor Day.
For the past 10 years, as the Executive Director of Wide Angle Youth Media, I, like most nonprofit administrators, have collected thousands of surveys and assessments, from audience feedback at events, to student self-assessments of their comfort using technology, to instructor observation of public speaking skills. Most of this data is compiled into lists and spreadsheets, to be reviewed internally to help us do our jobs better. We produce charts and presentations to share with our supporters: the board members, funders, and program partners who are not in the room daily. Rarely do we present this data to the subjects of the surveys, and up until the past two years, the individuals who were evaluated did not see their own performance review in detail.
This is a wasted opportunity and a disservice to our youth. More can be done to assist their development. As Wide Angle’s students have been learning how to make videos and talk about issues in their community, they have been preparing themselves for the rest of their lives. They should understand what they have learned, how far they have to go, and be able to use that data to support their goals.
For the past two years, Wide Angle Youth Media has been assessing our students’ skills and creating a document for each of them that they can use to not only measure their progress, but help them obtain jobs and internships—a Verified Resume (VR). Working with national partners, including ListenUp! Youth Media Network, youth media organizations across the country, and with support from the Kellogg Foundation, we have been certifying youth performance. Unlike most evaluations that utilize the data only for programmatic improvements and reporting, the VR is a personal document that each young person receives, with a clear measurement of key life skills such as negotiation and responsibility, as well as anecdotes illustrating how we observed their skills in action. Working with colleagues across the country, we are now expanding the use of the VR in our respective local communities, training youth workers and teachers in the process, and engaging potential employers in confirming the value and efficacy for them. This fall, we will be training recipients of the Ready By 21 grants, funded by the Open Society Institute and Baltimore City, to use the VR process to document the performance of young people in Peer-to-Peer and youth employment programs.
For our students, learning how to use media technology, and the associated skills that are part of media production—responsibility, creativity, acquiring and evaluating data, teamwork, listening, interpreting data, and negotiation—gives them the hard and soft skills they will need now and for their futures. By giving them a verified certificate, we give them the keys to their own data, and invite them to take the lead on their own development.
As we expand the implementation of the VR in our community, I challenge other organizations to look at their constituency, and their current assessment models. How can your evaluations be returned to the individuals, and benefit them directly, right now? What other models can be created to reinforce learning and development, and bring the assessment process full circle?