- Engaging in structured idea development that led to meaningful organizational change was empowering for youth, who realized that their thoughts mattered to WCS. Youth also felt connected to their workplace and colleagues, which strengthened their sense of community.
- Working with youth from other departments meant that participants had more access to information about internal employment opportunities and 30% diversified their roles at WCS within the first three years of the program.
- Leadership emphasized how the process built connections across departments and helped them to prioritize actions to improve the visitor and employee experience.
The Youth Employee Advisory Council (YEAC) is a group of front-line Bronx Zoo employees who generate ideas to enhance the experience of WCS employees and park visitors. Each year, a cohort of 30 youth employees from the Business Services and Education departments participated in structured idea development activities to teach them to identify problems at the zoo and develop solutions. They submitted ideas to leadership for workshopping and implementation. In addition to idea generation support, YEAC members receive skills-based training and opportunities to network and learn about diverse jobs at WCS. This evaluation documented implementation of the three-year pilot program, as well as impacts on youth employees and WCS leadership, and opportunities for project scale-up. The evaluation concluded in Spring 2020.
- In what ways does YEAC implementation correspond with program design? What are the primary challenges to implementation and how have they been resolved?
- How has YEAC impacted participants’ commitment to their jobs and interest in careers at WCS?
- How have YEAC ideas affected WCS operations?
- What are the components of YEAC that are critical for replication?
Over the three-year pilot program, we collected a variety of data aimed at addressing the evaluation questions:
- Pre/post surveys and focus groups with YEAC participants to measure youth outcomes including skill development, perceptions of WCS, and career interests, as well as solicit feedback on the idea generation process.
- Observations of idea generation and review sessions to gain insight into YEAC members’ process of identifying a problem and possible solutions and to understand the department leadership reactions to the ideas and barriers to implementation.
- Discussion sessions with department leadership to understand their experience of the idea review and implementation process, including what worked well and the challenges to the idea driven organization model.
We also reviewed two additional data sources to supplement the evaluation work: (1) a database of YEAC-generated ideas that includes a description of the identified problem, proposed solution, rationale, and outcome of the review process, including implementation details and (2) a database of YEAC alumni to track their academic, employment, and career paths following their participation in the program, including whether they returned to WCS the following season.
Over three years, 90 YEAC members generated close to 1,000 ideas, submitted several hundred to leadership for review, with over 90 implemented. Most ideas capitalized on participants’ unique insight into the visitor and employee experience, from training to wayfinding to small tweaks to increase their efficiency.
Across cohorts, YEAC youth consistently felt that seeing their ideas implemented was one of the most important parts of the process. One member explained that seeing ideas implemented concretely evidenced that “we’re making an impact on the zoo.” Another noted that seeing ideas materialize meant that “other people are taking our ideas into account. It’s not just ‘oh thank you for your ideas we’ll put it in the bin’ and then you never hear back.” Seeing their ideas implemented made YEAC members feel more connected to their jobs and to WCS. Across all three cohorts, 95% of YEAC members indicated that they Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they were proud to work for WCS, and 93% Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they wanted to work for WCS in the future.
Additionally, increased access to information about employment opportunities across departments made YEAC into a pipeline for a range of positions at the Zoo. Since the beginning of the program, at least 27 YEAC members (30%) have diversified their roles within WCS, making an upward or lateral move. Of that 27, 17 (19%) have received promotions with 2 moving into full-time jobs.
Bronx Zoo leadership praised the program and the ideas generated, emphasizing the benefits of being able to capitalize on front-line employees’ unique insights. Several leadership employees noted that being part of the YEAC process changed their interaction with front-line staff, making them more likely to approach them with questions or problems.
The Elevating Youth Voices at Cultural Institutions manual describes the best practices for other institutions interested in implementing a youth employee advisory council.