Engaging Young Adults in a Sustainable Future:
Strategies for National Parks and Other Special Places
A Front End Evaluation Final Report
The National Park Foundation
The NPS Conservation Study Institute and Shelburne Farms
The overview for the following citation is copied into the body this page. The complete report can be downloaded from the bottom of this page.
Duffin, M., Laven, D., Pranis, E., Mitchell, N., & Camp, M. (2009). Engaging young adults in a sustainable future: Strategies for National Parks and other special places - A front end evaluation final report. Woodstock, VT: Conservation Study Institute and Shelburne Farms.
Also attached to the bottom of this page is a literature review that synthesizes the current state of knowledge about six program design components emerging from research in youth engagement, service-learning, and other related fields. This literature review is embedded within the full report.
Pranis, E., & Duffin, M. (2009). Engaging young adults in a sustainable future: Strategies for national parks and other special places. Woodstock, VT: National Park Service Conservation Study Institute and Shelburne Farms.
Overview of Project Findings
The purpose of this project was to inform the National Park Foundation's (NPF) program development strategy for engaging young adults age 18 to 25 in environmental sustainability through collaboration with national parks and their partners and communities. This project positions the NPF to capitalize on research- and experienced-based knowledge about engaging young adults in the design of new initiatives. Program development for this key age group is an essential part of the NPF's overall strategy of engaging the full spectrum of youth audiences.
For this project, the NPF worked in partnership with the NPS Conservation Study Institute and Shelburne Farms to systematically undertake an in-depth, front end evaluation to learn about relevant opportunities and best practices to inform program development. The evaluation project team conducted an extensive literature review of relevant evaluation and research findings, used a participatory information gathering process through interviews with key stakeholders, and convened a program design charette. The team interviewed 18 experts in the fields of sustainability, youth development, and park operations, as well as 4 participants and 7 supervisors from the Alternative Transportation Interpreters program. The findings from the literature review and the interview data were integrated and used as the
basis for the day long program design charette during which NPF staff, the evaluation team, and 9 additional invited experts critically reviewed and creatively contributed to the findings of this project.
Project findings are presented in six attachments. The first four represent analyses from separate sources of information (interview and focus group data, literature review, and design charette). The remaining two products synthesize information across these sources. This synthesis illustrates a convergence of study findings, increasing confidence that these reflect more general principles and are a reliable basis for program design. This document also includes an appendix with supporting documentation such as preliminary findings from interviews, selected notes and documents from the charette, evaluation plans, and interview guides.
Attachment 1: NPF Strategy Level Theory of Change
This is a one page graphic representation of the NPF's strategic context for the design of new initiatives for young adults would take place. This graphic describes the underlying premise and assumptions that are at work, the overarching program design strategies, and the intended macro-level outcomes, and how these together shape the strategic role for the NPF. This theory of change was developed by integrating data from evaluation interviews and literature review with insights drawn from conversations with NPF and NPS staff. Participants at the charette reviewed a draft and provided comments. This document is akin to a "30,000 foot" view of the overall NPF program design landscape.
Attachment 2: Program Design Principles from the Literature Review
This four-page summary identifies six program design principles that emerged from an extensive review of existing evaluation and research on program design and related impacts of youth programs. This summary provides examples of how these principles can be implemented through a variety of programs in various settings. This literature review summary was designed to be readily accessible to the NPF and NPS as well as a broad range of other audiences.
Attachment 3: Guiding Principles Developed at the Program Design Charette
Participants at the charette explored and critically discussed drafts of the NPF strategy level theory of change, the program design level theory of change, and the literature review documents. By the end of this one-day session, the group developed a set of key guiding principles for NPF to consider while exploring potential next steps in program development. These guiding principles reiterated much but not all of the other data gathered for this evaluation (see #5 below). The charette participants added unique insights and syntheses not found elsewhere in the evaluation data.
Attachment 4: Findings from the Interview and Focus Group Data
The analysis of the 19 interviews and two focus groups identified four overarching themes that can inform NPF program design and development. These four themes closely align with the other date gathered for this evaluation (see #5 below).
Attachment 5: Synthesis of Program Design Principles
This synthesis of program design principles emerged from the literature review, program design charette, and interview data (#2-4 above). This synthesis illustrates a convergence of study findings, increasing confidence that these reflect more general principles and are a reliable basis for program design.
Attachment 6: Program Design Level Theory of Change
This theory of change maps the relationship between program design principles and the outcomes that parks, partners, communities, and young adults seek. This theory of change was initially crafted from the literature review, interview data and dialogue from the charette and the synthesis table (#5 above). One of the key insights emerging from this study is that parks, their partners, and communities working together can create powerful opportunities for engaging young adults in creating a sustainable future. The goals, needs, actions, and benefits of each of these groups are complementary and reinforce each other. This graphic - together with the synthesis of principles (see #5 above) - can serve as a guide for future NPF and NPS sustainability program development to engage
young adults. It also provides a foundation for future evaluation research.