January was an exciting milestone in Larkin Street’s pursuit of improving outcomes for the young people we serve – the wrap-up of a year-long external evaluation of our housing programs! We engaged Harder+Company Community Research to provide external validation that our approach and outcomes framework are strong, and that our work is having its intended impact.

As a data-driven organization we always seek to use facts to inform our decisions about where we focus our work. External evaluations can help do that by illuminating how well our service model is implemented across our portfolio of programs and how successful that model is in supporting youth outcomes. This in turn helps us be the most thoughtful stewards of our public and private resources.

To get at these questions, Harder+Co used a mixed methods approach that included quantitative data analysis, in-depth input from staff across the agency, and intentional engagement with young people in our programs. The year-long process was iterative: staff and youth were deeply engaged in the findings throughout the process, shared their input and perspectives, and helped shape paths forward.

The learnings from this participatory process reinforce what we know to be true over 35 years of work in the field, and what we will continue to invest in as we launch our next strategic plan:

• Relationships are at the center of our work
• Strong outcomes for youth depend on the strength of our staff
• There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and some young people need more support, particularly related to mental health and substance use services.
• A shared vision and collective values are the foundation for organizational success

We are grateful for the generous support of the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundation and their commitment to this critical work. And a special thanks goes to the young people who helped to shape and guide the evaluation along the way – this work can’t happen without them.