This morning brought another round of snow to town. With it came that lovely quiet that happens when everything is still very white and fresh, before the neighborhood kids wake and realize it is a snow day. Soon, the streets and yards will be filled with children making the most of this late burst of winter, and I will have the pleasure of watching them play through the windows of my home office.

On our way back from our morning walk I couldn’t help but notice all the signs of spring – the small buds on the trees, winter Daphne all pink and ready to burst forth, the bunches of bright daffodils tucked up against the wall of my neighbor’s house where the sun reaches most of the day and warms the soil faster than anywhere else. And in my own yard, the little shoots of bulb flowers standing a few inches tall against the white snow. When I walked out to fill the bird feeders, I noticed how many signs of spring are emerging from the ground up.

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One of the things I enjoy doing is reviewing new books for published book reviews and pre-press content. In the past year or so I have had the opportunity to review two new books on program evaluation: The second edition of the Logic Model Guidebook, and a brand new book entitled Being an Evaluator: Your Practical Guide to Program Evaluation. Both books provide fresh approaches to logic modeling for program planning, showing the reader how logic modeling is far more lively and fun when we realize that program models are not limited to a linear series of boxes in which we write our program plans. In fact, the Logic Model Guidebook has many illustrations on what logic models can look like, encouraging creative freedom in describing how programs work. The author of Being an Evaluator has a sweet method for sliding in logic modeling before the reader is even aware it is happening.

Both books illustrate that it is not the graphic used to portray a program plan that matters. What matters is the logical series of “ifs” and “thens.” If I do this, and this, then this happens. Logic models are descriptions of what is supposed to happen in a program, and how if that program is done according to plan (this is called fidelity) then the outcomes should follow.

The 4-H Thriving Model is a logic model, describing how IF we provide high quality programs for youth, THEN youth will thrive, and IF youth thrive, THEN they will achieve key developmental outcomes, and IF youth achieve these outcomes, THEN they are more likely to transition to adulthood successfully. Looking at the graphic of the model, one can see these connections, but they are linear, using academic words, and not particularly lively.

When I was working with the 4-H staff in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, one of the activities, described in an earlier post  was having them create posters from four questions about their 4-H work. Two of the posters depicted the 4-H program as a tree, with deep roots and leafy green tops. After creating the posters the groups “coded” them with colored stars that indicated which parts of the poster matched the different parts of the 4-H Thriving Model.

Although it is hard to see in this poster, most of the stars at the bottom related to the 4-H developmental context- meaning youth sparks, developmental relationships, and program quality. As you go up the tree the stars change color to indicate youth thriving. The stars at the top of the poster relate to developmental outcomes, and a successful future.

As I studied these posters more carefully, I realized that without knowing it, the groups had created innovative logic models of 4-H programming, showing how 4-H helps youth grow from the ground up. Without the base of high quality 4-H programs, youth won’t grow and thrive.

One of the things I have emphasized in all this work, is that program quality is one place where 4-H educators have the most control. By ensuring that programs provide a place for youth sparks, that developmental relationships with adults are present, that youth program quality principles are practiced, and that program activities promote thriving, the rest of the program tree will flourish.

Just like my intrepid little daffodil will grow from the ground up despite today’s late winter cold, so will youth thrive from the roots we establish and nourish in 4-H programs. What would a tree illustration of your 4-H program look like? Creating one for your own program, and coding it like we did in Arizona may help you see how you bring the 4-H Thriving Model to life every day. I’d love to see your pictures!

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold