Blueprint, a Toronto-based organization that uses evidence to improve public policy and programming, worked with the City of Toronto and Stella’s Place (a youth mental health organization) as an external evaluator for the Community Healing Project, an innovative program that aims to address the causes and impacts of community violence through the delivery of peer-based programming for participants aged 12 to 24.
Evaluating the Community Healing Project (CHP) required Blueprint’s team to think critically and creatively about how to maintain rigor in assessment methodology while simultaneously embracing flexibility and partner feedback. We recognized that an exclusively quantitative or survey-based approach during the early stages of the project could result in overlooking the full range of outcomes worth measuring, place burdensome implementation challenges on our partners, or be ill-suited to help youth participants feel empowered to share their experiences (especially on sensitive topics). Through early conversations with CHP partners, we also recognized that new approaches and tools would be needed to capture the types of stories and insights about youth participants that practitioners were most interested in. We asked ourselves, “What can we do to make it easier for youth to share their stories and experiences, and how can we share this back with partners in a way that will allow them to turn stories and experiences into action and improvement?” Working with the CHP team at the City of Toronto and CHP’s partnering organizations, Blueprint developed an early evaluation approach that was collaborative, youth-informed, and prioritized understanding participant experiences.
To accomplish this, Blueprint centered qualitative and participatory evaluation methods in the first years of CHP, including participant interviews, evaluation workshops, and user journey mapping. The data Blueprint captured from evaluation activities generated valuable findings about the project’s strengths, areas for improvement, and the outcomes achieved by program participants. Overall, evaluation showed that participating Peer Healers and Peer Mentors (CHP Peer Healer alumni who take on paid staff roles within CHP) gain unique skills, experience, and insights, and are able to reach and connect with youth in their communities in ways that community organizations and non-peer staff cannot. This report documents insights from the first two years of program evaluation activities for an ongoing five-year engagement between Blueprint and the CHP team.