Michael Ungar, PhD, is the Canada Research Chair in Child, Family, and Community Resilience and Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. He is also the founder and Director of the Resilience Research Centre which supports ground-breaking research on resilience, program evaluation, training and program design in dozens of countries around the world.
What Works: A Manual for Designing Programs that Build Resilienceis an easy-to-use guide that is ideal for anyone working with young people in social service or humanitarian settings, as well as community facilitators, counselors, and policy makers. It includes plenty of case examples of programs in both low-and-middle-income countries (where financial and human resources are scarce) and high-income countries (where resources are easier to find but problems can still be very complex).
While the manual is about programs designed for children, adolescents and their families, its 7-step model of program design will be just as useful in any setting where improving resilience is the goal.
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Video Interviews with Successful Program Designers
The playlist below includes five video interviews with program designers mentioned throughout the manual. Click below to play the videos in order, or press the playlist button near the title to open the playlist sidebar where you can navigate through the videos in the series.
The Seven Steps of Program Design
What Works describes in detail seven steps for great program design. To help explain each step, the manual compares program design to cooking for a hungry family.
Step 1: Choose a Program
Just as a great cook knows what people want to eat, the best programs are designed to address people’s most important problems. These will be the problems that people are the most motivated to change.
Step 2: Create Your Program Outline
A program outline (sometimes called a logic model) is very useful when designing a program to build resilience. Much like a meal plan, or menu, it provides you with a map to ensure that program activities create desirable outcomes.
Step 3: Gather Your Resources
Every meal starts with a trip to the market or the garden. Once you know which program is needed (Step 1) and you have figured out what you want to achieve (Step 2), then you are ready to gather the resources necessary to create your program and build resilience.
Step 4: Build Links from Your Program to Other Services and Supports
Great cooks rely on other family and friends to help with meal preparation. Program designers, too, create programs that build resilience by reaching out to other programs and people’s natural support systems (e.g., their family and friends).
Step 5: Adapt Your Program to the Local Context
A great program design can still fail if it is not well-adapted to the context in which it is going to be used. Just as great cooks change recipes to suit local tastes, programs that build resilience change to fit the culture and context of their participants.
Step 6: Track Your Success
Empty plates and heaps of praise tell cooks that their food has been appreciated. Program designers also need ways of measuring their success. Regardless of what evidence is produced, the goal is always the same: convince young people, families, communities, and funders that a program that builds resilience has value and is worth the investment of their time and money.
Step 7: Plan for Sustainability
An effective, well-designed program is also a sustainable program that reaches as many people as possible. Cooks design their kitchens to prepare food day-after-day. Program designers create resilience-promoting programs that last for years.
Inside What Works
- A brief history of the concept of resilience and its application to practice (with a focus on the needs of children, youth and families in challenging contexts).
- A definition of resilience that emphasizes a systemic, social justice perspective.
- A discussion of seven principles that ensure that programs nurture and sustain resilience.
- A list of the seven most important processes that promote resilience.
- Detailed instructions for the seven steps which designers use to create their programs and ensure that they’re effective.
- Inspiring case studies of great programs gathered from around the world.
- A troubleshooting section that anticipates some of the challenges that may occur when using the manual in different settings and with different types of organizations.
- Exercises (e.g., a service use satisfaction questionnaire, resilience assessment, appreciative inquiry tool, and a workshop design checklist) and resources to make it easier to use a resilience approach to program design.
- Guidance on how to monitor program outcomes and convince funders to keep funding programs that work.
Have You Designed a Program that Builds Resilience?