Assessing, reflecting, adapting — an evaluation of R-City’s Leadership Programme
by Allan LEONARD
25 February 2022
R-City, a Belfast-based organisation for young people, hosted a launch of an evaluation report by Trinity College Dublin (TCD), of its R-City Leadership Programme. A couple dozen people attended the in-person event, in contrast to when the research was conducted, in the midst of lockdowns and restrictions. The R-City senior manager, Alan Waite, welcomed all to the venue, and Dr Brendan Browne (TCD at Belfast) made introductory remarks, providing some background and context for today’s event:
“We wanted to make really good links between the academic programme and community organisations such as R-City … It’s really important that academic programmes are based on the really important work that’s going on around conflict resolution and reconciliation … The report highlights the unbelievable impact that R-City is having at the coalface; this work is inspirational.”
The report is an evaluation of the R-City Leadership Programme, which is described as “an integrated pathway of learning and development to nurture young participants’ capability to reach their potential for themselves and their communities”. Individuals participate over a three-year timespan.
Eileen Gricuk (TCD) presented a summary of the evaluation, beginning with a description of the programme’s theory of change focus on four aspects:
- creating proud, confident young people — self-awareness of one’s own values, strengths, and aspirations, together with experiences to develop skills
- prioritising education — promotion of education as a means to create future opportunities
- importance of relationships — centering right relationships across cultures, generations, and throughout the community as the foundation for wellbeing and prosperity
- community impact — instilling social action as a means to contribute to the community
These four aspects were measured against four indicators:
- Wellbeing — mental health and happiness
- Life skills — problem solving, setting goals, making decisions, thinking critically, getting along with people from different backgrounds
- Leadership skills — finding opportunities to be a leader, have self reflection, and be a role model for others
- Community awareness/social action — how much do you know about what’s going on in the community, who are the leaders, who’s working together, how much action are you taking, what are you doing
Gricuk reported that they received 59 responses (out of the programme’s over 300 adolescents and young adult participants to date). She said that that was “pretty good”, especially considering that the online survey was presented to participants between January and February 2021, during a second lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic: “Everyone was doggedly tired.”
She showed a broad breakdown of the survey respondents, which were roughly equal in terms of gender and cultural (religious) tradition. Also, about a quarter of all respondents — who have all completed the programme — were aged between 18 and 21, with the remainder older.
Gricuk highlighted particular results, with sample respondents, including:
- Wellbeing — “People cared about others and had others care about them”
- Wellbeing — “I get so involved in activities that I forget about everything else” (which Gricuk suggested is a sign of perseverance)
- Life skills — “I stay in touch with friends or people of a different background” (Gricuk noted that 98% of respondents rated this highly — “quite like me/very much like me”)
- Life skills — “I value knowing people of a different background (e.g. ethnicity, education, sex orientation, disability, religious belief)” (97% of respondents rated this highly)
- Leadership skills — “Helping others is important to me”
- Community awareness/social action — 85% of respondents said that they are still doing some activity in the community after completing the R-City leadership programme
Gricuk presented four key findings from their research. First, 44% of respondents stated that after the programme they attended university; this matches a broader figure of 43% of all 18 to 19-year-olds in Northern Ireland who attend university.
Second, the research showed that participants have diverse and inclusive social connections, typified by two participants: “Made me value relationships regardless of religious backgrounds” (female, age 18) and “Enriched by friendship circles which will stay with me for life” (male, age 21).
Third, learning from the programme is being applied within immediate family household environments as well as the wider community. For example, “Being involved in R-City has taught me new ways to deal with things, like if I’ve got an issue, you don’t just fly off the handle and take it out on everybody in the house. You sit down. You talk about it. It’s given me ways to socialise with people and problem solve, work things right and make decisions.” (male, age 20)
Fourth, Gricuk underlined the importance of self-identity formation and resilience within leadership programmes: “When you have your solid identity, you’re really capable to manage whatever comes your way.” She gave an example of a respondent who said that before her participation, she was shy, negative, and had no goals or career ideas of what she wanted to do — underconfident. She said that after her participation, “When I think of my future, I see it as very positive and exciting, something that I know I’m going to be able to make a difference in many people’s lives.”
Gricuk concluded by saying that the evaluation shows that the R-CIty Leadership Programme achieves its stated goals and makes a lasting impact upon its participants, demonstrated by:
- participants developing self-identity that is characterised by confidence, optimism, and resilience
- a significant figure for education attainment, with 44% of participants attending university after completing the programme
- the development of the capacity for better relationships within family households and across cultures and throughout the community
- a greater awareness of, and participation in, community social action
A full version of the report, “Assessing, Reflecting, Adapting: Retrospective Impact Evaluation”, is available online.