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NEO Shop Talk

The blog of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Evaluation Office

Summer Evaluation Institute Registration is Open!

AEA Summer Institute Logo

Whether you call what you do evaluation or assessment, the American Evaluation Association’s Summer Evaluation Institute is an amazing event, sure to teach you something and give you a different perspective on the job you do.

The institute, held June 26-29, 2016, is made up of ½ day hands-on training sessions, taught by the best professionals in the field of evaluation.  It’s attended by people from all over the world who want to improve their skills in different aspects of the evaluation process.

Why would you as a librarian want to attend the AEA Summer Evaluation Institute?   Here are some ideas:

Let’s say you were in charge of eliminating much of your print journal collection and increasing your online journals, and you want to figure out what data you should collect that will show that your users are still getting what they need. There’s a great program called “Development and Use of Indicators for Program Evaluation” by Goldie MacDonald that covers criteria for selection of indicators. Goldie MacDonald is a Health Scientist in the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a dynamic speaker and trainer.

Are you taking on the planning of an important project, like finding ways to ensure that your hospital administration values the contributions of your library?  Logic models are great planning tools, but additionally are useful for integrating evaluation plans and strategic plans.  How would you like to take a four hour class on logic models taught by the Chief Evaluation Officer at the CDC, Tom Chapel?

What if you’re a liaison librarian to your university’s biology department and you’re looking for ways to improve collaboration with the faculty? There’s a program called Evaluating and Improving Organizational Collaboration that gives participants the opportunity to increase their capacity to quantitatively and qualitatively examine the development of inter- and intra-organizational partnerships. It’s taught by Rebecca Woodland, Chair of the Department of Educational Policy and Administration at University of Massachusetts Amherst (and recognized as one of the AEA’s most effective presenters).

Maybe you’ve been responsible for a program at your public library training the community in using MedlinePlus for their health information needs. You’ve collecting a lot of data showing the success of your programs, and want to make sure your stakeholders take notice of it. How about giving them an opportunity to work with the data themselves? There’s a program called: A Participatory Method for Engaging Stakeholders with Evaluation Findings, taught by Adrienne Adams at Michigan State University.

This is only a small sampling of the great workshops at the Summer Evaluation Institute.

For those of you who don’t know much about the American Evaluation Association: The AEA is an international professional association devoted to the application and exploration of program evaluation, personnel evaluation, technology, and many other forms of evaluation. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products, and organizations to improve their effectiveness. AEA has approximately 7000 members representing all 50 states in the United States as well as over 60 foreign countries.

Cindy and I will be there – we hope to see you there too!

 

Data Party for Public Librarians

The Engage for Health project team from left to right: Lydia Collins, Kathy Silks, Susan Jeffery, Cindy Olney

Last week, I threw my first data party. I served descriptive statistics and graphs; my co-hosts brought chocolate.

I first learned about data parties from evaluation consultant Kylie Hutchinson’s presentation It’s A Data Party that she gave at the 2016 American Evaluation Association Conference. Also known as data briefings or sense-making sessions, data parties actively engage stakeholders with evaluation findings.

Guest List

My guests were librarians from a cohort of public libraries that participated in the Engage for Health project, a statewide collaboration led by the NN/LM Middle Atlantic Region (MAR) and the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA). The NN/LM MAR is one of PaLA’s partners in a statewide literacy initiative called PA Forward, an initiative to engage libraries in activities that address five types of literacy.  The project team was composed of Lydia Collins of NN/LM MAR (which also funded the project), Kathy Silks of the PaLA, and Susan Jeffery of the North Pocono Public Library. I joined the team to help them evaluate the project and develop reports to bring visibility to the initiative.  Specifically, my charge was to use this project to provide experiential evaluation training to the participating librarians.

Librarians from our 18 cohort libraries participated in all phases of the planning and evaluation process.  Kathy and Susan managed our participant recruitment and communication. Lydia provided training on how to promote and deliver the program, as well as assistance with finding health care partners to team-teach with the librarians. I involved the librarians in every phase of the program planning and evaluation process. We met to create the project logic model, develop the evaluation forms, and establish a standard process for printing, distributing, and returning the forms to the project team. In the end, librarians delivered completed evaluation forms from 77% of their adult participants from Engage for Health training sessions.

What We Evaluated

The objective of PA Forward includes improving health literacy, so the group’s outcomes for Engage for Health was to empower people to better manage their health. Specifically, we wanted them to learn strategies that would lead to more effective conversations with their health care providers. Librarians and their health care partners emphasized strategies such as researching health issues using quality online health resources, making a list of medications, and writing down questions to discuss at their appointments.  We also wanted them to know how to use two trustworthy online health information sources from the National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus and NIHSeniorHealth.

 Party Activities

Sharing with Appreciative Inquiry. The data party kicked off with Appreciative Inquiry interviews. Participants interviewed each other, sharing their peak experiences and what they valued about those experiences. Everyone then shared their peak experiences in a large group. (See our blog entries here and here for detailed examples of using Appreciative Inquiry.)

Data sense-making: Participants then worked with a fact sheet with graphs and summary statistics compiled from the session evaluation data.  As a group, we reviewed our logic model and discussed whether our data showed that we achieved our anticipated outcomes.  The group also drew on both the fact sheet and the stories from the Appreciative Inquiry interviews to identify unanticipated outcomes.  Finally they identified metrics they wish we had collected. What was missing?

Consulting Circles: After a morning of sharing successes, the group got together to help each other with challenges.  We had three challenge areas that the group wanted to address: integration of technology into the classes; finding partners from local health organizations; and promotional strategies.  No area was a problem for all librarians: some were quite successful in a given areas, while others struggled. The consulting groups were a chance to brainstorm effective practices in each area.

Next steps:  As with most funded projects, both host organizations hoped that the libraries would continue providing health literacy activities beyond the funding period.  To get the group thinking about program continuity, we ran a 1-2-4-All discussion about next steps.  They first identified the next steps they will take at their libraries, then provided suggestions to NN/LM MAR and PALA on how to support their continued efforts.

Post Party Activities

For each of the four party activities, a recorder from each group took discussion notes on a worksheet developed for the activity, then turned it into the project team. We will incorporate their group feedback into written reports that are currently in process.

If you are curious about our findings, I will say generally that our data supports the success of this project.  We have plans to publish our findings in a number of venues, once we have a chance to synthesize everything.  So watch this blog space and I’ll let you know when a report of our findings becomes available.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in reading more about data parties, check out this article in the Journal of Extension.

 

Diversity, Texas Libraries and Participatory Data Collection

On April 20, Cindy Olney and I facilitated a program for the Texas Library Association Annual Conference called Open Libraries! Making Your Library Welcome to All.  The program was sponsored by TLA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the plan for the program was for attendees to work cooperatively to discover ways to ensure that people of diverse cultures, languages, ages, religions, sexual orientations, physical abilities, and others feel welcome at the library.  The committee wanted to get ideas from the wealth of TLA librarians’ experiences, so Cindy was invited to gather as much information from the attendees as possible. As co-chair of the TLA Diversity and Inclusion Committee, I co-facilitated the event.

The process used was a modified 1-2-4-All process, that you can find on the Liberating Structures website.  Our primary question was “What can my library do to become more welcoming to all people?”  We asked everyone in the room to brainstorm together all the different parts of a library that could be modified to make it more welcoming (e.g., reference services, facility, etc.).  We wanted to be sure that everyone thought as broadly and creatively as possible.

TLA Diversity Data Collection Program 2016

The discussion process actually had two parts.  For part one, we gave everyone two minutes to write as many ideas as they could on index cards (one idea per card).  Then we asked people to take two minutes to share their ideas with a partner.  They then shared their ideas with the entire table (up to 10 participants). The group then chose and wrote down the three best ideas and turned them in to the moderators.  Participants were instructed to leave their index cards with their ideas piled in the middle of their tables.

Here were some of the ideas that were generated through this discussion.

  • Welcome signs in different languages
  • Signage
  • Physical spaces – access to mobility

As you can see, the responses were fairly non-specific. We wanted richer descriptions of modifications of programs or services.  So part two of the process involved asking participants to develop more detailed plans for making their libraries more welcoming. Using a method involving dog, cat, and sea creature stickers, we moved participants randomly to new tables so that they ended up with a new group of colleagues.  They then chose a partner from their new table members and, as a pair, randomly chose one idea card the piles generated in part one of the process. They worked on a plan for one idea for eight minutes.  When the moderator called time, they pulled another card and worked on plans for a second idea. In the final eight minutes of the session, we asked for idea sharing by table to the entire group.

The plans in part 2 were better articulated and detailed than those we got in part one. Here are some examples of the kind of result we got from that exercise:

  • Signage: Making clearer, more colorful. Different languages signage or use digital signage.
  • Language material specific to the community and programming in various language spoken in the community. ESL classes partnered with community colleges.
  • Invite representatives from ADA/disability advocates to give suggestions on making library desks/areas more accessible.

The whole process was completed in a 50-minute conference program session.  Both myself and the other Diversity and Inclusion co-chair, Sharon Amastae from El Paso, TX, were impressed with the energy and enthusiasm that was present among attendees in the room.

The results of this data gathering event will be communicated to the TLA membership.  When that project is completed, we’ll let you know here on the NEO Shop Talk blog!

Photo credit: Esther Garcia

 

Meet the New NEO

Cindy Olney and Karen Vargas

Head’s up, readers.  Look for a name change to our blog on May 1.

That’s the day the NN/LM Outreach Evaluation Resource Center will be replaced by the new NN/LM Evaluation Office, a.k.a. NEO.  The NEO will have the same staff (Karen Vargas and Cindy Olney) and same location (headquartered in University of Washington Health Sciences Library) as the OERC; but it has a new and evolving role in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM).

This time last year, Karen Vargas (evaluation specialist) and I (acting assistant director) began writing a proposal for this new NN/LM office.  The University of Washington Health Sciences Library submitted our proposal as part of its larger one for a five-year cooperative agreement to fund the NN/LM Pacific Northwest Regional Medical Library. (Spoil alert: UW HSL won the award.  See the announcement here:  https://www.nlm.nih.gov/news/nlm-rml-coop-agreement-2016.html.)

Our new name reflects one of a number of changes in NN/LM’s funding, organization, and management.  Leaders of the NN/LM are re-envisioning what it means to be a national network of organizations that work together to advance the progress of medicine and public health through access to health information. The NEO staff will contribute our evaluation expertise to help the leaders focus on key outcomes and measure progress and accomplishments.

The vision set forth in our proposal is to influence NN/LM’s use of evaluation to engage and learn about its programs, make good decisions, and enhance the visibility of its successes. Our proposed strategies were organized around five main aims. First, we will support the NN/LM leadership’s ability to make data-driven decisions. Second, we will collaborate with the regional medical libraries to increase use of evaluation in their regions.  Third, we will provide quality evaluation training opportunities to build evaluation skills of network members.  Our fourth aim is to increase visibility of NN/LM’s program successes.  Lastly, we plan to provide new written materials about effective and emerging evaluation practices and trends.

The exact nature of our services will be determined by the needs of the NN/LM as we all develop new approaches to working together. We do know that the NEO’s scope will expand beyond health information outreach evaluation to include other areas, such as organizational development and internal services to users and clients. We also want to put more emphasis on evaluation use, both for decision-making and advocating program value to stakeholders. As a teaser, Karen and I plan to develop our own expertise in evaluation reporting, participatory evaluation methods, and digital story-telling. (In fact, Karen’s blog post next week will describe our  recent participatory evaluation experience at the Texas Library Association 2016 meeting.)

The most important news for our blog readers, though, is that our URL address will not change for the foreseeable future. So in spite of the name change that’s coming, you will still find our weekly blog posts here.  So “see” you next week.

 

Our Favorite Evaluation Blogs

successful business woman on a laptop

We really don’t want you to stop reading our blog!  But April is a really busy month for us, so this week we’ll make sure you get your evaluation buzz by letting you know of some other great evaluation blogs.

AEA365 – This is the blog of the American Evaluation Association.  This blog shares hot tips, cool tricks, rad resources, and lessons learned by different evaluators every single day!

Better Evaluation Blog – Better Evaluation is an international collaboration to improve evaluation by sharing information about evaluation methods, processes and approaches. The blog has posts that provide new perspectives  about particular issues in evaluation.

EvaluATE – EvaluATE is the evaluation resource center for the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program. Their blog has lessons learned, tips, or techniques on evaluation management, proposal development, evaluation design, data collection and analysis, reporting, and more.

Evergreen Data – Stephanie Evergreen writes a blog about data visualization.  For the record, she has written the book(s) on data visualization, Effective Data Visualization and Presenting Data Effectively.

Visual Brains – Sara Vaca writes about new techniques and ways of visualizing data, information, and figures to communicate evaluation findings and to improve evaluation use, but also for use in other stages such as planning and analyzing.

The OERC Is On The Road in April

 

A young boy having fun driving his toy car outdoors.

The OERC staff will be putting on some miles this month. Karen and Cindy are slated to present and teach at various library conferences and meetings. If you happen to be at any of these events, please look for us and say “hello.”  Here is the April itinerary: 

Cindy will participate in a panel presentation titled “Services to Those Who Serve: Library Programs for Veterans and Active Duty Military Families” at the Public Library Association’s 2016 conference in Denver. The panel presentation will be held from 10:45 – 11:45 am, April 7. She and Jennifer Taft, who is now with Harnett County Public Library,  will present a community assessment project they conducted for the Cumberland County Public Library, described here in the November/December 2014 edition of Public Libraries.

Karen will conduct the OERC workshop “Planning Outcomes-Based Outreach Programs” on April 8 for the Joint Meeting of the Georgia Health Sciences Library Association and the Atlanta Health Science Library Consortium in Decatur, GA. This workshop teaches participants how to develop logic models for both program and evaluation planning.

 Cindy and Karen will facilitate two different sessions for the Texas Library Association’s annual conference, both on April 20 in Houston. One session will be a large-group participatory evaluation exercise to gather ideas from the TLA membership about how  libraries can become more welcoming to diverse populations. The second is an 80-minute workshop on participatory evaluation methods, featuring experiential learning exercises about Appreciative Inquiry, 1-2-4-All, Photovoice, and Most Significant Change methods.

Cindy will join the NN/LM Middle Atlantic Region and the Pennsylvania Library Association to talk about evaluation findings from a collaborative health literacy effort conducted with 18 public libraries across the state. The public libraries partnered with health professionals to run health literacy workshops targeted at improving consumers’ ability to research their own health concerns and talk more effectively with their doctors. The public librarians involved in this initiative worked together to design an evaluation questionnaire that they gave to participants at the end of their workshops. The combined effort of the cohort librarians allowed the group to pool a substantial amount of evaluation data. Cindy will facilitate a number of participatory evaluation exercises to help the librarians interpret the data, make plans for future programming, and develop a communication plan that will allow them to publicize the value of the health literacy initiative to various stakeholders. The meeting will be held April 29 in Mechanicsburg, PA.

In addition, Cindy will be attending a planning meeting at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda in mid-April with Directors, Associate Directors, and Assistant Directors from the NN/LM. Our library, the University of Washington Health Sciences Library, will receive cooperative agreements for both the NN/LM Pacific Northwest Regional Medical Library and the NN/LM Evaluation Office, which will replace the OERC on May 1. (You can see the announcement here.)  We will let you know more about the NEO later, except to say that we will be moving into the same positions in the NEO that we hold with the OERC. You have not heard the end of us!

Although we will be on the road quite a bit, rest assured we will not let our loyal readers down. So please tune in on Fridays for our weekly posts.

 

What chart should I use?

It’s time to put your carefully collected data into a chart, but which chart should you use?  And then how do you set it up from scratch in your Excel spreadsheet or Power Point presentation if you aren’t experienced with charts?

Here’s one way to start: go to the Chart Chooser at Juice Analytics.  They allow you to pick your chart and then download it into Excel or Power Point. Then you can simply put in your own data and modify the chart the way you want to.

They also have a way to narrow down the options.  As a hypothetical example, let’s say a fictional health science librarian, Susan, is in charge of the social media campaign for her library.  She wants to compare user engagement for her Twitter, Facebook and Blog posts to see if there is any patterns in their trends. Here are some fictional stats showing how difficult it is to find trends in the data.

Monthly stats of blog, Twitter and Facebook engagement

Susan goes to the Juice Analytics Chart Chooser and selects from the options given (Comparison, Distribution, Composition, Trend, Relationship, and Table).  She selects Comparison and Trend, and then also selects Excel, because she is comfortable working in Excel.  The Chart Chooser selects two options: a column chart and a line chart.  Susan thinks the line chart would work best for her, so she downloads it (by the way, you can download both and see which one you like better).  After substituting their data with hers, and making a couple of other small design changes, here is Susan’s resulting chart in Excel, showing that user engagement with both blog posts and Facebook posts shows a pattern of increasing and decreasing at the same time, but that Twitter engagement does not show the same pattern.

Line chart of Blog Twitter and Facebook engagment

By the way, the total time spent selecting the chart, downloading it, putting in the fictional data, and making chart adjustments was less than 15 minutes.  Is it a perfect chart?  Given more time, I would suggest adjusting some more of the chart features (see our January 29, 2016 post The Zen Trend in Data Visualization). But it was a very easy way to pick out a chart that allowed Susan to learn what she needed to from the data.

One thing I want to point out is that this is not a complete list of charts.  This is a good starting place, and depending on your needs, this might be enough. But if you get more involved in data, you might want to take a look at small multiples, lollipop charts, dot plots, and other ways to visualize data.  Check out Stephanie Evergreen’s EvergreenData Blog  for more chart types.

 

Inspirational Annual Reporting with Appreciative Inquiry

Hiker enjoying the view along the Iceberg Lake trail in Glacier National Park

Do you have to file annual reports? How much do you love doing them?

Did I hear someone say “no comment?”

In January, I challenged the outreach librarians of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Greater Midwest Region (NN/LM GMR) to experiment with a reflective exercise designed to add some inspiration to their annual reporting. The setting was a monthly webinar attended by librarians who led outreach activities at their libraries to promote health information access and use. Because their libraries received funding from the NN/LM GMR, they were required to submit annual reports for their funded activities.

My charge was to teach this group something about evaluation. In response, I presented them with this short (about 15 minute) exercise to be used when they began preparing their annual reports.

When preparing your report, answer these questions. Then write a short paragraph based on your answers and add it to your annual report:

  1. Describe one of the best experiences you had this year conducting outreach for the NN/LM.
  2. What do you value most about that experience?
  3. What do you wish could happen so that you had more experiences like this?

You may recognize these as the three signature questions of the basic Appreciative Inquiry (AI) interview. Appreciative Inquiry is a practice of influencing organizational change by identifying peak experiences and discovering ways to build on them. The book Reframing Evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry (Preskill and Catsambas, Sage, 2006) provides descriptions and examples of how to apply AI to every part of the evaluation process.

My partners for this webinar were host Jacqueline Leskovec, Outreach, Planning and Evaluation Coordinator, and presenter Carmen Howard, who is the Regional Health Sciences Librarian and Visiting Assistant Professor from UIC Library of the Health Sciences Peoria. Carmen headlined the webinar with her presentation about the Nursing Experts: Translating the Evidence (NExT) Guide, which provides resources on evidence-based practice to nurses. Good sport that she was, Carmen helped me demonstrate the exercise to our audience by participating in an AI interview about her outreach project. The outreach librarians then brainstormed ways to use the three questions to prepare their own NN/LM reports. We also talked about how to add their reflective statements to their annual reports, which are entered into an online system.

Soon after that webinar, Carmen wrote an entry about her experience using the three questions that appeared in the NN/LM GMR’s blog The Cornflower. Here is my favorite quote from her entry:

“These three simple questions which only take about 10-15 minutes to answer forced me to stop and reflect on the NExT project. Rather than just being focused on what was next on the to-do list, I was looking back on what had already been accomplished, and better yet, I was thinking about the good stuff.”

The NN/LM GMR outreach librarians have not yet filed their 2016 annual reports, so I can’t tell you how many rose to my challenge. (This exercise was a suggestion, not a requirement.) One other outreach librarian did send an email to say she was using the three questions to have a reflective group discussion with other librarians who participate in NN/LM outreach activities.

I would like to extend the challenge to our readers who may be facing annual reports. Try this exercise and see if you don’t start thinking and writing differently about your efforts over the past year.

If you want to know more about Appreciative Inquiry, we highly recommend this source:

  • Preskill H, Catsambas TT. Reframing Evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006.

You also might be interested in the OERC’s other blog posts about Appreciative Inquiry:

If you are interested in earning some continuing education credits from the Medical Library Association while trying your hand at an Appreciative Inquiry project, reach this post: Appreciative Inquiry of Oz: Building on the Best in the Emerald City 

 

Diversity in Evaluation – It’s About All of Us

Picture of children running through different colors with text "Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that culture permeates everything we do, and that we live in a diverse society with lots of different cultures. Odds are good that no matter what your job is, you take into consideration issues of culture, diversity and inclusion. This applies to evaluation as it does everywhere else.

At the 2015 Summer Evaluation Institute, each attendee was given a copy of The American Evaluation Association’s Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation.  I was impressed that the document was frequently mentioned, because it was clear that the AEA felt that cultural competence was central to quality evaluation. As it says in the Statement, “evaluations cannot be culture free… culture shapes the way the evaluation questions are conceptualized which in turn influences what data are collected, how the data will be collected and analyzed, and how the data are interpreted.”

The Statement describes the importance of cultural competence in terms of ethics, validity of results, and theory.

  • Ethics – quality evaluation has an ethical responsibility to ensure fair, just and equitable treatment of all persons.
  • Validity – evaluation results that are considered valid require trust from the diverse perspectives of the people providing the data and trust that the data will be honestly and fairly represented.
  • Theory – theories underlie all of evaluation, but theories are not created in a cultural vacuum. Assumptions behind theories must be carefully examined to ensure that they apply in the cultural context of the evaluation.

The Statement makes some recommendations for essential practices for cultural competence. I highly recommend reading all of the essential practices, but here are a few examples:

  • Acknowledge the complexity of cultural identity. Cultural groups are not static, and people belong to multiple cultural groups. Attempts to categorize people often collapse them into cultural groupings that may not accurately represent the true diversity that exists.
  • Recognize the dynamics of power. Cultural privilege can create and perpetuate inequities in power. Work to avoid reinforcing cultural stereotypes and prejudice in evaluation. Evaluators often work with data organized by cultural categories. The choices you make in working with these data can affect prejudice and discrimination attached to such categories.
  • Recognize and eliminate bias in language: Language is often used as the code for a certain treatment of groups. Thoughtful use of language can reduce bias when conducting evaluations.

This may sound good, but how can it apply to the evaluation of your outreach project?

Recently, the EvergreenData Blog had two entries on data visualizations and how they can show cultural bias. In the first one, How Dataviz Can Unintentionally Perpetuate Inequality: The Bleeding Infestation Example, she shows how using red to represent individual participants on a map made the actual participants feel like they were perceived as a threat. The more recent blog post, How Dataviz Can Unintentionally Perpetuate Inequality Part 2, shows how the categories used in a chart on median household income contribute to stereotyping certain cultures and skew the data to show something that does not accurately represent income levels of the different groups.

Does it sometimes feel like cultural competence is too much to add to your already full plate of required competencies? This quote from the AEA Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation may be reassuring: “Cultural competence is not a state at which one arrives; rather, it is a process of learning, unlearning, and relearning.”

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Get to Know a Community though Diffusion of Innovation (Part 2)

two granddaughter whispering some news to their grandmother

It’s really simple. You sell to the people who are listening, and just maybe, those people tell their friends.“ — Seth Godin, marketer.

Diffusion of Innovation changed my approach to community assessment. I now focus primarily on identifying the following three things: the key problem that the program or product (the innovation) offers the target community; key community members who will benefit both from the innovation and promoting it; and the best channels for capturing the attention of the majority and laggard segments of the group.

I now purposely use the term “community” rather than “needs” assessment because you have to assess much more needs. You must learn the key components of an entire social system. A community could be faculty or students in a particular department, staff in a given organization, or an online support group of people with a challenging health condition. All of these groups fit my definition of “community” by virtue of their connectedness and ability to influence each other.

Key Evaluation Questions

No matter what type of evaluation I do, I always start with guiding evaluation questions. These questions lead my investigation and help me design data collection methods. Here are my most typical community assessment questions:

  • What problems can the innovation solve for the target audience?
  • What are their beliefs, lifestyles, and values; and will the innovation fit all three? (Marketers call these characteristics “psychographics.”)
  • Who in the group is most likely to want to use the innovation and talk about it to their friends? (These are the early adopters who fit a second category: opinion leaders.)
  • Who among the early adopters will want to work with the project team and how can we work with them?
  • Where are the best places to connect with community members?
  • What are the best ways to communicate with the larger majority?

Answering Evaluation Question

 I also have a series of steps that I usually take to gather information about my key evaluation questions.  This is my typical process:

  1. Talk to “advisors” about their ideas and their contacts. Start talking with people you know who are part of or had experience with a community. I call this group my “advisors.” They don’t have to be high-level officials, but they do need to have solid social connections. It helps if they are well liked within the target community. They will know about the daily lives of target community members, as well as the influential voices in the community. They also can help you gain access.
  2. Look at publically available data: Local media provides clues to the concerns and interests of your target community. In a town or neighborhood, newspapers and websites for television stations are good sources.  Inside an organization, you should look at public and employee relation publications to see what is on the minds of leaders and employees.
  3. Interviews with key informants: Get your advisors to recommend people they think would be early adopters and opinion leaders for your innovation. But don’t stop there. Early adopters are different from those in the “later adopter” segments. You need to talk with people from the other segments to understand how to get their attention and participation. The best way to find community members in the other segments is to ask for recommendations and introductions from the early adopters. This is called “snowball sampling.”
  4. Visit the community: More specifically, visit locations where you are most likely to connect with members of your target audience. Visit the venue of a health fair where you could exhibit.  Stop by the computer lab in an academic department where you might teach students. Check out the parking and building access at the public library or community-based organization that could host a consumer health information workshop. If your community is virtual, see if you can visit and participate with group members through their favored social media channels.
  5. Put ideas together, then present them to early adopters for feedback: If at all possible, bring together a group of early adopters and potential partners to listen to and respond to your ideas. Early adopters are the people that companies use for beta testing, so you can do the same. It may be the same people you interviewed or a different crowd (or a mix).

Other Tips

For the most part, I tend to rely heavily on qualitative methods for community assessment. Diffusion of Innovation describes how ideas spread through a system of relationships and communication channels. You need details to truly understand that system.  You need to talk to people and understand how they live. Interviews, focus groups, and site visits provide the most useful planning information, in my opinion. You may have to include quantitative data, though.  Library usage statistics might indicate the best branches for providing workshops.  Short surveys might confirm broad interest in certain services. In the end, a blend of mixed-methods gives you the best picture of a community.

The downside to mostly qualitative data collection methods is that you get an overwhelming amount of information. I like to use an information sheet that allows me to summarize information as I conduct a community assessment. A version of this worksheet is available in OERC’s Planning and Evaluating Health Information Outreach Projects Booklet 1: Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach (downloadable version available here.). See Worksheet 2 on page 19. You should see how the evaluation questions I posed above are related to this worksheet.

Final Thoughts

Seth Godin said ideas that spread are remarkable, meaning they are “worth making a remark about.” Use community assessment to find out why your innovation is remarkable and how to start the conversation.

Other Resources

If you want to see an example of a community assessment that used this process, check out this article in Public Libraries.

You also might be interested in  Seth Godin’s TEDtalk How to Get Your Ideas to Spread.

Last updated on Monday, June 27, 2016

Funded by the National Library of Medicine under Contract No. UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.