Consider the experience of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program (ChalleNGe), a federated network. ChalleNGe offers a quasi-military environment for teens that have dropped out of secondary school, with the aim of helping them become productive citizens. Each of the 33 affiliates offers essentially the same two-part program: a 22-week residential phase (during which “cadets” build job skills, prepare for the General Education Development exam, participate in community service, and develop a “life plan”), followed by a year of mentoring in the youth’s community.
In 2010, ChalleNGe’s leaders re-evaluated the organization’s strategy and committed to improve network impact. As part of that work, they identified four key programmatic dimensions of effectiveness: program utilization (application and acceptance to the program), success in the pre-residential phase, success in the residential phase, and post-residential placement. They also assessed affiliate performance against those dimensions and, studying the results, found wide variation. For example, at one ChalleNGe site, 90 percent of students successfully graduated from the residential program, while at another, only 58 percent did so.
The implications of keeping youth engaged throughout the residential phase of programming were striking. If all affiliates could match the top quartile of that baseline performance set then 2,700 more young people would graduate from the residential program each year. The network would improve its overall impact by 35 percent without needing to add new locations.
Based on this very clear idea of how the affiliates performed on these four dimensions, ChalleNGe set an equally clear goal: Over the next year and a half, each site should commit to achieving at least the same results on each of the four dimensions as those affiliates at the baseline 75th percentile.