Case Study: HeartWood Centre for Community Youth Development

August 6, 2019


HeartWood Centre for Community Youth Development is a nationally recognized leader in community youth development. Established in 1988, HeartWood uses an integrated approach to community youth development practices. It provides direct leadership training for youth by supporting and working with youth in their communities. It also offers capacity building, professional development, and research for individuals and organizations that are interested in meaningfully engaging youth.


Heartwood’s challenges included a need to tighten their programming, due to a resistance to changing core programs that had been offered for many years; a desire to more closely align all programs with each other and the organization’s mission; and a need to more smoothly distribute their activities, which reflected heightened periods of activity, followed by significant periods of downtime. Additionally, Heartwood wanted to think more strategically about how to best advance the change they seek as an organization and the relative emphasis they should put on incremental change at the individual youth level, versus creating and advancing a baseline of skills for all youth-serving organizations and leaders.


Working towards a theory of change involved segregating and analyzing Heartwood’s activities to better understand their impact. They examined three categories of activities: direct leadership programming with youth, indirect work with youth (e.g. training and building the capacity of youth-serving professionals and organizations), and systems change work, which utilized both strategies to support a higher-level change in an organization’s overall approach to youth. The Heartwood team examined its past work in each of these categories to help refine the desired impact for each going forward.

To analyze the past impact of its indirect, capacity-building work, the Heartwood team conducted interviews and surveys with former participants in their training programs to understand what the impact of these opportunities had been. The data they collected quickly revealed that their training work was highly valued by the participants, but was not squarely reaching the desired audience – a higher proportion of training attendees than they had realized were either not directly working for youth-serving agencies, or were in roles that would not allow them to carry results from the trainings forward throughout their organizations. This revealed a need to revise their outreach, marketing and enrollment processes in a way that would more directly focus those activities on the individuals who could help drive the desired change, as well as a need to re-examine why these participants rated the programs so highly if they were not working with youth. In addition, interviews with youth participants revealed that often they were engaged in their communities but were unable to articulate this engagement. This led to a re-examination of their youth leadership programs to focus more directly and clearly on the goal of community engagement and the many forms that this can take. HeartWood also examined how they could provide more long-term support to both youth and adult participants to put their new skills and learnings into action after the program.

Outcomes and Next Steps

Heartwood developed a theory of change that provides greater clarity on how they will measure impact; where their efforts lie within the broader system they operate in; and makes better linkages across program offerings. In addition to creating their theory of change, Heartwood also used the lessons from the Impact and Strategic Clarity process to re-design a number of programs and processes, which will help ensure alignment of future activities with the core beliefs articulated in the intended impact statement and theory of change.

Finally, Heartwood developed a detailed Learning Agenda that will help them focus their efforts over the next several years to continue to examine how these different activities could collectively achieve the desired impact of the organization.