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A database with a heart: using IT for meaningful evaluation

It’s a universal truth: youthwork and evaluation databases go together like vegans and steak.  No youth worker wants to fill in a database.  No database captures the magic of youthwork.  Ye cannae dae it. 

Except … 

In Dundee, a pioneering youthwork charity has done it! 

Hot Chocolate Trust works with teenagers and young adults from all over the city who have challenging lives.  Hot Chocolate knows it is vital to show the impact of its work with young people – for learning, funding and to give young people a voice.  It wasn’t an option to ignore evaluation.  The challenge was to do it in line with Hot Chocolate’s values and put young people at the heart.  

As Executive Director Dave Close says “the key tension is balancing the power dynamics of monitoring and evaluation with the unpredictability of young people’s lives”.  The solution was to take control.  For Hot Chocolate evaluation became about asking “what happened?” and “what does that mean?”.  It’s about reflective practice and conversations with young people.   

And surprisingly, it IS about a database.   

Hot Chocolate has designed an online tool for monitoring and evaluation called TECKLE DATA.  Youth workers record their work with young people and the outcomes young people are achieving in a person-centred way. Young people can have access to much of the database and ensure evaluation reflects their experience.    

The database allows workers and young people to reflect on progress – or not and why.  There are drop down menus for type of engagement and for outcome achieved when relevant.  Text boxes allow stories to be captured and are written in the second person (“you told me this”, “you did that”) which seems to make for honest and richer records.  And Dave can generate reports for funders about activities and outcomes.   

This didn’t happen overnight.  It involved many years of development and pro bono support.  There were a few false turns and frustrations along the way.    

And crucially Hot Chocolate had to make choices about what NOT to record to keep things proportionate.  Dave says “ the database needs to serve youthwork practice and not the other way around.” 

But it has been worth it.  Hot Chocolate Trust can record and report on its impact and use evaluation to improve and promote youthwork and celebrate young people.  That is surely what evaluation should be all about.   

Hot Chocolate’s database TECKLE DATA is available for other youth & community organisations to buy and customise to their context.  Find out more at   (this is an external website) 

For a case study of one young person’s journey, using the database, see