Hi everyone, I am Dr. Kim Sabo Flores, the Co-founder and CEO of Algorhythm, a new company that builds solutions to ignite ongoing learning and drive impact in the nonprofit sector.

The Youth Development Impact Learning System

About four years ago, we began a journey alongside more than 16 afterschool programs to develop a Youth Development Impact Learning System (YDiLS) that would help nonprofit organizations measure social-emotional learning outcomes and assess their staff practices.

Why? Because we saw that small and medium sized nonprofits were struggling to use data for ongoing program improvement (evidence-based decision making) and impact measurement. High quality evaluation is expensive and small nonprofits typically do not have the budget to support it. Most also do not serve a large enough number of youth to support the “gold standard” of evaluation: randomized control trials (RCTs). In many ways, this has limited the field of youth development to studying large organizations that serve hundreds, if not thousands, of youth.

At Algorhythm we understood that this meant the field’s conversations about quality and impact were missing vital information from thousands of small nonprofits who are innovating effective practices and impacting youth across the country every day. We believed that much could be learned from these organizations and their local, community-based approaches. And we were concerned that, without strong, research-based, validated tools, and robust analytics many of these organizations would struggle to grow and sustain their practice.

So we asked ourselves: how could we ensure that every organization has access to real-time findings that are just as rigorous and reliable as a large-scale university study… but affordable? Enter the Youth Development Impact Learning System (YDiLS).

Our Process

The YDiLS went live in 2015. The current social and emotional learning (SEL) measures for middle and high school youth have been scientifically validated with over 300 programs, 13,000 youth, and 2,000 staff participating across 20 states. And we have tested the tools to ensure they hold no gender, race, or age bias.

Excitingly, our current users now include both the smaller nonprofits that inspired the system AND larger organizations that have in turn been inspired by the system’s collective impact approach. Indeed, all programs and organizations who participate in the YDiLS do so because they want to learn more about their outcomes, improve their programs, and help build the field. And, as the amount of data in the system has grown, users are now able to run reports that outline the staff practices that work best for youth exactly like those in their program!

Our community also continues to grow and evolve, creating new tools, modules, and resources to support our partners. We are currently testing a social emotional learning measure for younger youth in 3rd to 5th grade, and a college knowledge tool, both with the support of The Y. We’re partnering with NYC Service to test youth-adult partnership and civic engagement tools. And Play Rugby and Up2Us have also begun to work with us to develop sports-based tools. Once these new tools are tested and validated, they too will become available to everyone else using the system.

Our Learning Community

We believe that an important part of our work is to provide spaces and resources to support a powerful community of learning organizations. To date, this has included:

  • The development of a practical handbook on how to support social and emotional learning outcomes: The Art and Science of Creating Effective Youth Programs
  • A dedicated Facebook page, where we post inspirational tips, articles, quotes, and videos related to SEL
  • A virtual classroom of free resources, ranging from research papers to evaluation scripts
  • An annual conference celebrating the YDiLearning System’s most successful organizations (our “positive deviants”) and
  • Of course… this blog series!

Our goal for this blog series is to highlight YDiLS findings, give voice to the amazing youth development professionals who are making a difference in programs every day, and to engage experts in thoughtful discussions about social and emotional learning.

Responding to an increased call for youth development resources that support equity and inclusion, for the rest of 2017 we have decided to invite guest bloggers to specifically speak to how SEL relates to this theme. We hope that you find this conversation valuable and that it inspires you to share your own work with us.

In community,

Kim Sabo Flores