Hello camp professionals! Greetings from Salt Lake City, my home base, and home of the University of Utah and the research team responsible for ACA's 5 Year Impact Study. The team (which includes 6 PhD researchers, 3 graduate students, and an all-volunteer research advisory committee)  is hard at work building on what they learned in the first year of the study to explore further the unique ways camp prepares campers and staff for college, career, and beyond. 

This month, the team launches 4 separate-but-overlapping projects, all under the Impact Study umbrella. 

  1. They will recruit former campers to fill out a survey assessing what they learned at camp, what happened at camp to support their learning, and how they are using what they gained in school and in their lives outside of camp. These results will help camps communicate the long-term benefit of attending camp to parents and other supporters, and help camps design programs that help campers thrive in school and in their lives outside of camp.
  2. They will recruit first year staff to complete surveys and participate in interviews with the research team multiple times a year for the next 5 years. This results of this project will help camps recruit qualified staff, and demonstrate the value of working at camp to potential staff, parents, university advisors, and employers.
  3. They will recruit 9-to-10 year old campers and their parents/caregivers to complete surveys and participate in interviews multiple times a year for the next 3 years. By tracking campers and their families, this project will help camps support camper growth over time, and better understand how to market to and engage parents and other potential partners.
  4. Finally, the team will recruit participants of CIT/LIT programs to complete a questionnaire to better understand why they enroll in CIT programs, what they gain from them, and the program practices that best support their leadership development. These results will help camps more effectively use CIT/LIT programs to develop qualified camp staff who are also leaders in school and in their communities.

The party is starting, and you are invited!

I’ve traveled around the country sharing with people the methods and goals of ACA's Impact Study, and each time I am met with enthusiasm and "this is exactly what we need to________" (market camp, secure partnerships, compete for funding, recruit staff…). Camp people understand the critical importance of evidence, and demand that our research provides evidence that is legitimate and useful.  This is exciting!  But to get evidence of this caliber, we need camps to participate in camp research.

This week we invited 60 ACA accredited camps to participate in the Impact Study. These camps were selected randomly from pools of certain camp types—day camps, overnight camps, camps of different affiliations (faith-based, agency-based, camps for people with disabilities or illnesses) and missions (nonprofit and for-profit). Selection is careful and systematic, all with the goal of providing data that accurately represents the ACA accredited camp population. 

What does it mean to participate in an ACA research study?

 In the Impact Study, it means helping the research team recruit campers, staff, and CITs to complete online surveys, typically by sending them an email with a survey link and your enthusiastic encouragement to fill it out. In other situations, participating in research might mean a bigger time or financial commitment; but in this case, the research team manages every aspect of the study aside from those initial emails. 

What’s in it for you?

First and foremost, participating camps can celebrate their role in generating evidence of the value of camp, evidence that will help all camps recruit staff, design programs, and advocate for their camp to parents and other supporters. Participating camps will also be acknowledged in the publications and presentations that result from the Impact Study, which means plenty of opportunities to share with their social networks their involvement in camp research.

Bottom line:  if you are contacted to participate in the study, please say yes!  We can’t have a party without you. 

But it doesn’t stop there; camps not selected to participate in the Impact Study still play a critical role in camp research.  Here are a few ways you can still have fun at this party:

  1. Read the research results!  We will be sharing results as they emerge on this blog, at local conferences, and in Camping Magazine.  Follow along, and share what we learn with staff, parents, and others.
  2. Use research results!  Research of is only as good as it’s use, which means ACA will be working hard to translate what we learn from this research into practical tools for marketing, staff training, and program design.  But it’s up to you to use these tools, and to demonstrate to parents and others that you use evidence to inform your work.
  3. Share research results!  Camp people are the best story-tellers in the world.  Use what we learn to help tell your camp story—share the results as they emerge with your camp community and to families, funders, and other potential partners with whom you are trying to connect.

The research party has started, but, like most parties, the research project is most impactful when everyone at the party is engaged, giving and taking in equal parts so the entire community party benefits. No corner-sitters allowed.  How will you participate?

Laurie Browne, PhD, is the director of research at ACA. She specializes in ACA's Youth Outcomes Battery and supporting camps in their research and evaluation efforts. Prior to joining ACA, Laurie was an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management at California State University-Chico.  Laurie received her Ph.D. from the University of Utah, where she studied youth development and research methods.

Thanks to our research partner, Redwoods.


Additional thanks goes to our research supporter, Chaco