New community health data available

I apologize for my lengthy absence from blogging. Every three years, my (very small) nonprofit, HARC, conducts a huge community health survey and provides that information back to the community to use at no charge. Our once-every-three-years data release event occurred last week, and it took all of our attention for the past three months.

Note: For those of you interested in Coachella Valley, California health, check out the report we released last week: it’s packed with information and easier than ever to digest!

Whenever I write this blog, I try to frame it broadly—“this is what we do to impact our community, but it could easily be transplanted to your community”. Today, though, I’m going to get a little local. I can’t help it, it’s a big milestone for HARC.

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Did it work? Four steps to evaluate your training sessions

Many of you offer training sessions to various groups in order to move the needle and make communities better. These training sessions are as varied as your areas of expertise, covering topics like financial literacy, self-defense, managing chronic disease, cultivating healthy relationships, and so much more. You put time and effort into the training session, and you truly do want it to make a difference in people’s lives. So how do you evaluate your training sessions to find out if you made a difference?

I took an entire course in graduate school on training—how to design a good training, how to implement it, and how to evaluate it. Fortunately for you, I won’t spend an entire semester on the topic, but I will hopefully convey the important parts!

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Understanding outputs and outcomes: Easy as pie!

All fields have jargon that only they understand. I personally feel like jargon/specialized terminology just makes it more difficult to understand each other, and to draw parallels from the work you do to the work others do (which are often quite strong, despite different word use).

One source of terminology confusion in evaluation is the difference between outputs and outcomes. Both of these are things that you measure to demonstrate your impact (which, as mentioned in a previous post, is sooooo important!). So today I wanted to demonstrate the difference between the two and make it easy as pie for you to grasp and remember.

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Don’t reinvent the wheel, use secondary data!

These last few weeks I’ve focused on needs assessments. An important (although unglamorous) first step in needs assessments is to comb the data that already exists in the public space to see what you can learn.

Collecting data yourself can be expensive and time consuming. So if there’s a chance that the information you need already exists out there, you should most definitely take the time to find it! It’ll be a serious money saver. But finding existing data isn’t always easy.

Here’s my four favorite searchable sources of useful secondary data:

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Fighting AIDS with needs assessments

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.

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But how do I pick?! Prioritizing needs

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.

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Here’s why you need a needs assessment

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.

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Internal vs. External Evaluation – Pros and Cons

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.

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How to go from drab to fab with evaluation

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).

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