Engaging the Community: An Evaluator’s Perspective
November 17, 2014 | Angela Fitzgerald, Senior Researcher, NCCD
Hello! My name is Angela Fitzgerald and I am a senior researcher with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a nonprofit research organization that works to promote just and humane social systems. I have been involved in and have witnessed evaluation work from a number of vantage points, and a challenge that seems to consistently plague organizations is engaging community members (one subset of stakeholders) in the evaluation process. Engagement helps ensure that (1) evaluation content is understood and of relevance to that audience, (2) identifies advocates who can champion the projects being evaluated, and (3) lends credibility to evaluation findings. I have compiled and listed a few lessons learned to help organizations overcome the challenge of engaging community members.
Develop relationships with community organizations and groups. People are more likely to invest time in something with which they are already familiar or belong. For an organization undertaking an evaluation project, this may require connecting to other organizations or groups to which your desired audience belongs. Developing relationships with other community-based organizations or groups creates ambassadors who are willing to help recruit individuals on your behalf to participate in the evaluation.
Make the process accessible. Engaging community members may require a different process than engaging other types of stakeholders. For example, community members who want to be involved may not be available during the work day. Providing opportunities for engagement through different mediums (web-based, telephone, in-person) and during non-traditional work hours will help to maximize opportunities for individuals to become involved in the evaluation process. Also, taking potential engagement barriers for community members into consideration and working to overcome them (e.g., scheduling meetings in locations that are accessible via public transportation) signifies that you care about their involvement.
Follow up with your audience after the evaluation is complete. Completing a proper evaluation takes much time and effort, and once completed it’s easy to move on to the next project before sharing findings with your community member stakeholders. Those who have been engaged will be interested in knowing the outcome of the evaluation, and possibly contributing to future work. Make sure to share evaluation findings with community members, and allow them to provide their input in the interpretation of findings. This exchange may be supremely important in defining next steps for the project, as well as ensuring that these community members will want to invest time on your future projects.
Rad resources: Check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDCs) website for more helpful information on engaging stakeholders in your evaluation.
Angela Fitzgerald, MS, is a senior researcher for NCCD. She has a strong background in the implementation and evaluation of evidence-based risk reduction and health promotion programming for at-risk populations, as well as project coordination. Angela has an MS in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, where her research focused on culturally competent approaches to the implementation of HIV prevention and health promotion interventions. Most recently, Angela worked as the program evaluator for the Virginia Department of Health’s Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, a policy initiative designed to improve health and development outcomes for at-risk children through evidence-based home visiting programs.