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A Collaborative Investment to Build Shared Outcomes for Our Field

June 09, 2016

Generation-Now-Cover-232x300A couple of years ago, four foundations set out to find the answer to a critically important question: How do we measure the success of our Jewish teen engagement and education initiatives?

The question, while specific, also spoke to a real need. Our foundations recognized the importance of engaging the next generation of Jews in Jewish life as a way to ensure the vibrancy and longevity of our community. But there was a gap between what our community's teen initiatives accomplished and what our actual long-term goals were — and are.

To address this need, we came together to invest in a significant way in research on Jewish teens. The result is a new report, Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today.

The research that informs the report was designed to identify a set of shared outcomes to be used across various programs when assessing Jewish teen education and engagement initiatives. Not only were we pleased with the clarity of that research, we were also pleased with the process. For example:

  • We found it very helpful to partner with a highly knowledgeable and trusted voice in the field — in this case, The Jewish Education Project's David Bryfman, who already had strong relationships with many of the parties involved in these efforts. Bryfman led the work in partnership with an experienced research team.
  • All parties involved — national and local funders, practitioners, and teens themselves —demonstrated a willingness to move away from old frameworks (both for teen programs and their evaluation) designed by adults to a new framework that takes into account the voices and interests of a new generation of teens.
  • We made sure the researchers conducted focus groups with teens and interviewed parents and practitioners. As a group, we then reviewed what was learned, proposed a set of outcomes, tested them with stakeholders, refined them based on that feedback, and then retested. We made sure that what we had developed through the process strongly reflected what we had heard from the teens themselves.
  • To help ensure that our efforts would lead to actual, positive change on the ground, toward the end of the process we brought in experts to "translate" the shared outcomes into draft survey questions for teens in communities across the country. The survey questions then went through an iterative review and refinement process with funders, practitioners, and teens.

We are now looking forward to putting the report to work and applying its lessons to the benefit of our field.

How We Leverage Outcomes to Advance a Field

While coming up with a shared set of outcomes was a primary goal of the process, an added bonus was the qualitative research that revealed some incredibly informative, insightful, and in some cases surprising aspects about Jewish teen life today — including how Jewish teens think about their lives, their families, their identities, and their social groups. In short, we learned that our community needs to work with teens to create experiences that address all aspects of their lives. Teens are ambitious, move fluidly between communities and identities, want to be challenged, and want programs that add meaning and value to their lives — and help them attain their long-term life goals.

Along with these valuable insights, Generation Now unveils fourteen outcomes that the research suggests Jewish teen initiatives and programs should strive to achieve in order to have the deepest, most meaningful impact.

Because of the collaborative nature of this investment — and the existence of a Jewish Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative comprised of multiple funders and national and local stakeholders from a range of communities — we are positioned to leverage the report and help further advance and align the field. Rosov Consulting, a leader in evaluating Jewish education initiatives, already is piloting the outcomes and measurement tools in multiple communities that are part of the collaborative. And we have been gratified by the strong interest from national organizations and other communities interested in putting the tools to use for their own assessment work. We've also been gratified by the interest from practitioners in the field of Jewish education who want to explore how other audiences (both younger and older) might be able to use these tools.

Moving forward, we want to encourage organizations to train their practitioners to design programs that achieve the outcomes presented in Generation Now. In addition, we want to aggregate data from multiple evaluations using a shared set of survey questions based on these outcomes in order to mine the results for cross-organizational learning. Developing this aggregated picture is critical for building a field with a set of uniform metrics premised on best practices and a culture of knowledge-sharing.

A report is only as useful as the degree to which its lessons are absorbed and applied. In the field of general education, for example, standardized tools are today used to both implement new practices and measure their results. But in the field of Jewish education, and religious education more generally, measuring one's relationship to culture and faith is challenging. So, while we work to measure our community's impact on Jewish teens' life journeys, we also plan to refine the outcomes we would like to see and invest in the tools needed to achieve those outcomes as we learn more about their use in the field.

Advancements Lead to Smarter Investments

Generation Now catalyzes a significant shift in Jewish teen education and engagement. The field is moving beyond thinking about teens as passive recipients of Jewish learning experiences. Whereas before we would ask, "How can we influence the Jewish lives of teens?" we now ask: "How might we understand and engage the teen as a whole person? And how can Judaism enrich and deeply influence his or her life journey?" Equipped with this new understanding of Jewish teens, our organizations can make smarter investments in their success; evaluators have more strategic and accurate indicators and tools to determine whether our investments are having an impact; and teens themselves are more likely to be attracted to the offerings they and we create together. As we have learned, broad and deep research combined with a commitment to apply the findings of that research are an important way to advance a field.

Jon Woocher, Ph.D., is president of the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. Josh Miller is program director at the Jim Joseph Foundation. The two foundations, along with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Marcus Foundation, commissioned the report Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today.

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