QMAP Resource Corner: Outcomes of Mentoring for Mentors

October 9, 2013

Findings from the Quality Mentoring Assessment Path (QMAP®) process provide MPM with in-depth information about challenges that mentoring program staff face in balancing program development with managing the day-to-day program functions. From data gathered through QMAP assessments of Minnesota mentoring programs during 2012, one area that is less developed by programs evaluation of is how the mentoring relationship affects mentors. With the primary focus of mentoring program evaluation concentrated on proving the impact of the mentoring on mentees, the value of the experience for mentors gets much less attention. Defining and evaluating mentor outcomes were two of the top 10 areas in which mentoring program staff indicated a need for assistance when assessing their programs using QMAP.

When mentoring programs design evaluation processes for volunteers, the focus is often on the mentor’s experience in the program, as with items measured by volunteer satisfaction surveys. While programs should assess how mentors view key activities, such as mentor training, to improve program practices, evaluation measures that stop there can not provide information on how mentors’ experience in the program may spur change in the mentors themselves. Seasoned program staff – and mentors – often describe the mentoring experience as more transformational for mentors than mentees, but evidence for this tends to be anecdotal or fairly subjective. Recently, mentor outcomes are attracting more attention from researchers; for example, a 2011 study of graduate students mentoring undergraduates found that mentors realized several benefits from the experience, including a better understanding of their academic area, opportunities to practice advising skills, the chance to diversify their field of study by supporting a student from an underrepresented group, and a stronger understanding of developmental relationships. (Reddick, Griffin, Cherwitz, 2011). However, indicators of change for mentors are not typically measured consistently at the program level.

The challenge for programs seeking to demonstrate such changes is three-fold: first, program staff must clearly understand and define how mentors could be positively affected by their mentoring experiences; next, staff have to be able to identify what the indicators of those changes might be; and lastly, they have to develop realistic ways to measure changes. In the absence of an established body of research on mentor outcomes, staff must rely on their shared understanding of the program’s mission and model, as well as the typical trajectory of mentoring relationships in their program, to define what positive changes could occur for mentors. In youth mentoring programs, benefits for mentors may show up in new knowledge and behaviors, or shifting attitudes and worldviews, to name a few areas; examples of outcomes that could be assessed include greater awareness of positive youth development principles, increased engagement in one’s community, an enhanced sense of personal effectiveness, or a more in-depth understanding of issues experienced by youth and families. Once those changes are clearly defined, programs can begin to estimate the degree of change that might occur, how these changes might be demonstrated and tracked, and start gathering data about whether changes are actually occurring. Methods for measuring mentor outcomes include surveys, phone or in-person interviews, and pre-/post-testing.

For those who have used logic modeling to illuminate theories of change, the outcome development process will be familiar – it does not have to be complicated. Starting with an idea of growth areas or personal development gains could reasonably be linked to mentoring experiences, and what related outcomes might result from the experience, you can develop a working ‘best guess’ theory to explore further. One example of this process comes from a program that refined ideas for several mentor outcome indicators in the course of working on their QMAP Innovation and Improvement Plan. For one of these outcomes, program staff had recognized that active mentors were more aware of community resources and activities; to document this effect, the program started to measure their volunteers’ assessment of how connected they felt to their community at regular intervals as part of the program’s overall volunteer survey.

Mentoring programs seeking to define experientially-based mentor outcomes have a built-in resource to support development of these outcomes – the mentors themselves. If you are able to gather a cross-section of mentors with different experiences in the program, engaging them in an open-ended conversation about what they have learned and how they have been affected by their mentoring relationships can provide you will a rich source of data to draw on when identifying possible mentor outcomes. Talking to your volunteers gets you ideas that are specific to the nature of mentoring in your program. Remember to enter into this discussion without too many assumptions about what mentors’ experiences have been, or what the experience has meant to them – you may learn something new by simply listening. Considering a formal focus group with your mentors but don’t know where to start? Consult What’s Working?, a guidebook developed by Search Institute and MPM to provide youth mentoring programs with ready-made tools to assist in mentoring program evaluation tasks. Focus group design, planning, facilitation and analysis are all covered in the guidebook, which is available through MPM.

It may be hard to justify the work needed to better understand mentor outcomes when so much value is placed on determining the impact of mentoring on youth, but exploring how mentors grow and change as a result of their commitment to a young person can help programs in other ways. Information about the impact of mentoring on mentors may open up new opportunities to position programs in communities and with key stakeholders. Having evidence that mentoring is life-changing for adults as well as youth creates a value-add for programs by showing the ripple effect of mentoring beyond the youth it targets; it also positions mentoring as a civic engagement strategy to be allied with initiatives focused on community development and collective impact.