Observing Outcomes in Youth Development: An Analysis of Mixed Methods


  • Karla A. Henderson
  • Gwynn M. Powell
  • Margery M. Scanlin


Quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, positive youth development, camps.


Organizations such as park and recreation departments, not-for-profit youth groups, churches, and resident and day camps offer opportunities to promote positive youth development through structured recreation activities. Researchers involved with organized camp programs have documented some values of camp experiences relative to growth and development, yet more is to be learned about how camp structures and settings influence positive youth development and how the outcomes of youth development can be measured. The purpose of this analysis was to explore indicators of youth development outcomes through a comparison of two forms of data collected at six camps. The results of comparing quantitative and qualitative data sources to determine if indicators of positive youth development can be observed in a short period of time in the recreational and educational setting of summer camp is described. Quantitative data came from a study that sampled families representing American Camp Association (ACA) accredited camps from across the United States. The data included pre- and post-questionnaires given to campers to measure domains such as positive identity, social skills, positive values, and thinking and physical skills. The instrument used was called the Camper Growth Index-Children (CGI-C). Qualitative data came from on-site observations in six camps that had participated in the quantitative study the prior year. A guided outline was used as the basis for field observations and informal interviews. The observation rankings/ratings and the quantitative results were compared. Two of the three camps showing statistically positive developmental change in campers also were ranked higher in using the focused qualitative observation. Two of the three camps showing no statistically significant change were also identified as ranking lower through the observation process. Observing opportunities for adventure and exploration activities as well as leadership and independence displayed by campers were easiest to observe. Observing indicators for developmental outcomes, including environmental awareness, positive identity, and positive values, were more difficult. Although consistent agreement did not exist in this comparison of quantitative and qualitative data, the two approaches provided some convergence and complementary data. This study provided an opportunity to explore the measurement of camp experiences from an external view along with an internal self-report approach. We examined the micro data obtained from the individual campers in relation to the social environmental macro structure of the camp. Implications exist for triangulating data and validating methods in other recreation organizations to better understand how and why youth development programs in recreation and camp settings work. Given the complexity of the desired outcomes and the individual nature of growth and development, mixed methods and systematic multimeasure approaches offer information for supporting youth development.





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