Measuring a positive change

DSC 1824By Fiona Watt, Research And Evaluation Manager

For many young people, autumn can involve a period of change - whether that's stepping up to 'big school', taking on new challenges such as GCSEs or A Levels, moving onto College or embarking on an apprenticeship.  It can be an exciting period, full of opportunities and new experiences, but for some, it can also be clouded with a sense of anxiety and uncertainty.

Many of our courses at The Outward Bound Trust aim to equip young people with the skills needed to make transitions like these more positive and successful – including our new Skills for Life Award. The 19 day course aims to give participants resilience, confidence and self-belief, as well as improve their teamwork, communication, problem solving and self-management skills.  It aims to foster a positive attitude towards new opportunities, openness to new ideas and a desire to achieve. Essentially, many of the things we believe are key to helping young people cope with big changes and transitions into the unknown.

The Skills for Life Award has been a very exciting project for the Evaluation team to work on. We’ve been carrying out research with participants and their parents, both before and after their course, so that we can try and understand what positive changes have happened as a result of taking part. We've good reason to believe that the course will have a positive and lasting impact, as academic research* has consistently pointed to the deeper and more lasting effect of longer courses like this one.

Our work has kept us busy collating and analysing a wealth of information ready to feed back into the programme for next year.  Part of the research involved group interviewing of 50 young people, coming from all walks of life, each with their own individual goals and motivations. They’d all had to face and overcome personal challenges in different ways during their course. It was clear from the interviews, that participating on the Skills for Life Award course, had been a very positive and rewarding experience. Above all, the support and encouragement that they showed towards each other, and the openness and enthusiasm with which they approached the group interviews, meant that as a research exercise, it was not just informative, but highly enjoyable for us to be involved in as well.

But we’re far from finished - we’ll be following up with participants at various points over the next year to see if any of the positive changes they experienced have stayed with them longer term.   We’re really excited about understanding how the course has helped them to prepare for forthcoming challenges and how their new skills help them approach periods of change.

After all, if the course has an impact in the short term, but the effect soon wears off, then the course is not doing what it set out to do. The particular plans of those we’ve spoken to, range widely and we look forward to following their journeys and hopefully seeing some really positive stories of change.

We'd like to hear your thoughts.

We're always looking for insight into our longer term impact – so if you’ve been on an Outward Bound course in the past, or you know someone who has, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the impact it had in the long term. Email me at if you’d like to help.