Previously, when I mentioned needs assessments, I talked about very specific needs assessments, the type an organization might do before implementing a program. But there’s also a broader type of needs assessment that we are actively involved in, known as a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). CHNAs are designed to assess the community as a whole, and to identify what needs exist. CHNAs can be used by many, many organizations in the community to design and implement services.
Last week I talked about how needs assessments are a great way to find out what your target audience needs, and what programs would be best to meet those needs. But what if you do a needs assessment, and it turns out that your constituents need about 1,000,000 things to have a happy, healthy, productive life? What do you do then?
None of us have limitless resources to spend on addressing the needs in our community. And as much as we’d like to fix everything, that’s just not humanly possible, especially in the very disadvantaged communities or the very vulnerable groups of constituents. So we end up focusing our time, effort, and resources on needs that are both common and that have serious consequences. Prevalence and severity are the name of the game in needs assessments.
The last couple weeks I’ve focused on program evaluation, which is an awesome way to use data to change communities for the better. But long before you do a program evaluation—hell, before the program is even a twinkle in your eye—comes the needs assessment.
A needs assessment is just what it sounds like: finding out what your target audience needs. You may be thinking, “I work with my community every day, I know what they need!” And you’re probably right. You are an expert on what your constituents need—whether that’s clean drinking water, gender equality, health insurance, or active transportation options. And, by extension, you probably know what programs and services they would benefit from. But there are many benefits of a needs assessment. Today, I’ll share with you my top two favorites.
Hopefully, after reading these last few posts about how great evaluation is, you’re totally convinced and have decided that you need it. If so, you may be thinking, “OK, what’s next? How does this actually happen?”
First, you need to decide who should do the bulk of the work: you or someone else. In more fancy terms, this is “internal evaluation” and “external evaluation”. There’s pros and cons to both.
Evaluation is our bread-and-butter here at HARC (check out my previous posts here and here). Unfortunately, a common myth about evaluation is that it happens at the end of a project or program. While this is true, a more accurate statement is that evaluation has its place in all stages of a program cycle, from planning to implementation to summation and back to planning for the next round.
Last week I talked about how awesome program evaluation is, and how it helps you to quantify just how much your work changes lives. This week I want to go into more detail about that.
Many of you out there have big, beautiful goals for your programs—increase access to healthcare for low-income families, protect endangered species, advocate for human rights, provide high-quality education to all, etc. You sink time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears into that goal. You WANT to make a difference, and to make the world a better place. Evaluation can help you prove that you did that, and make your impact statements something that will really blow people away (in a good way).
This blog is all about using data to change lives, improve communities, and make magic happen. And program evaluation, one of our major efforts here at HARC, is a big part of that. I love program evaluation, and you should, too. Here’s why:
What is Evaluation?
Program evaluation is a method of systematically collecting and analyzing information to better understand a program. That’s a fancy way of saying that evaluation is a study to see if you’re accomplishing what you hoped you’d accomplish. Basically, are your activities (programs, projects, policies, anything you’re doing) leading to the change you hoped you’d see?
Data’s not sexy (to most people… nerds like me are the exceptions). HARC provides research and evaluation services, and I’ve yet to say that sentence and get a response like, “Oh my god, how amazing!” or “It must be so rewarding!”. No, most people’s eyes glaze over when they hear the word “data”.
But data really does do wonderful things. Not on it’s own—if you do a study, write a report, and stick it on a shelf somewhere, all you’ve really done is waste time and resources. If, however, you share that information with amazing people who take it and run with it, magic happens.
HARC is a soon-to-be-10-year-old nonprofit, and we’ve struggled with telling people what it is we actually do for all of those almost-10-years. We are getting better at it (thanks to trial and error and some awesome communications people), so I wanted to try to share with you what HARC really is (at least in my mind).
There’s three big pieces to “who we are”: