To What Extent Are Individuals Participating in Services?

School-based programs that are offered on a voluntary basis (like a drop-in, afterschool program) must work hard to make sure participants attend the program consistently. Young people benefit most from programs when they participate consistently. Programs must therefore have a theory or understanding about how much exposure to the program is enough, and work to ensure that each student receives a sufficient amount of services.  Programs involving teachers, parents, and/or administrators must also track the participation levels of these groups to make sure they meet desired levels.

How to track sessions and participation

Programs should collect information about each session offered and the amount of services participants actually receive. Information collected should include number of hours of service delivery, date, attendance, and a summary of the session. Programs should also track program start date and end date, so they can calculate the duration of program participation. 

Setting benchmarks

So how much is enough? To develop benchmarks for participation, program administrators must develop an understanding about how much participation in the intervention is needed for participants to reach desired outcomes, and then work to ensure that each participant participates at desired levels. 

To reach this understanding, program administrators can analyze attendance data (e.g., number of sessions attended) in relation to outcomes data (e.g., frequency of alcohol use), to examine whether greater attendance is associated with better outcomes and, if so, what minimum participation levels are needed. 

Low participation levels?

Low participation levels are common among elective programs and programs offered during non-school hours. If you find that your program’s participation levels are lower than desired, potential reasons to explore include (many of these apply more to older youth, who can make their own choices about participation): (a) low program quality; and (b) practical barriers such as cost, scheduling, participation requirements, transportation difficulties, family responsibilities, and work. 

Analyzing the data

One way to look at the potential relationship between outcomes and program attendance is to create a chart, similar to the one below, which plots participant’s attendance rate (on the bottom or horizontal axis) against the participant’s outcome achieved (in this case, a letter grade, shown on the vertical axis).   This will provide you a visual display as to how attendance and outcomes cluster.  Using this type of chart, you can begin to estimate how much programming is ‘enough’ based on where the bulk of your participants fall.  

In the chart below, the bulk of participants are clustered in the area labeled “1”, which shows that the majority of participants that attended 75% of the program sessions achieved at least a “C” letter grade.   The use of charts such as these (or more advanced statistical techniques) will be the first steps to help you determine how much of your programming is ‘enough’ to achieve desired outcomes.



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Resources Cited

Tobler, N. S., Roona, M. R., Ochshorn, P., Marshall, D. G., Streke, A. V., & Stackpole, K. M. (2000). School-based adolescent drug prevention programs: 1998 meta-analysis. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 20(4), 275-336.