Implementing a new program or set of practices can be challenging. When the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) decided to roll out its Character Development Learning Institute (CDLI), the organization offered its support to local YMCAs (or Ys) in planning, implementing, and monitoring the quality of adult practices in five key areas. One strategy that Y-USA used to support staff in local Ys was to provide participating Ys with a technical advisor (TA). TAs are outside experts hired to support program leaders as they solve problems to better and more effectively serve program recipients. In youth development programs, TAs may have expertise on child development, youth engagement, youth retention, or other programmatic components. The CDLI initially included four TAs hired by Y-USA. Later, as the CDLI scaled, Y-USA added two additional TAs, each of whom had extensive experience in either local Ys or in other youth development programs.

This brief describes five important lessons learned about TAs during Child Trends’ evaluation of the CDLI. The CDLI was designed to be program-agnostic and serve children and youth ages 5 to 18. As a result, the elements that made peer support useful in this initiative may be applicable in a wide variety of other youth development programmatic settings. As other programs seek to develop a TA support model for program leaders—even for projects planned on a different topic—we expect they may benefit from some of the lessons learned from the CDLI. TAs play an important role in translating information into practical guidance and curating resources in a way that is tailored to the need of each CDLI team.