Community Development TIG Week: Using Evaluation and Data to Catalyze Community Capacity, not Protect Power By Samantha Shaak, Jared Raynor, Julie Simpson, and Ron Dendas

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having a voice to be heard.” -Liz Fosslien

This year Community Development (CD) TIG’s sponsored week focuses on community development evaluation and how members are addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Research shows that diversity and inclusion in the workforce enhance organizational performance and creativity, and positively impact population health outcomes ( CDC; Science Direct Diversity Article). In the forthcoming week, the CD TIG will seek to highlight these efforts, as well as share Hot Tips and Tools with readers on how to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the community development and evaluation workspace.


Hi, AEA Members! We are Samantha Shaak and Ron Dendas, from The Leonard Parker Pool Institute for Health in Allentown, PA and Jared Raynor and Julie Simpson, from TCC Group. Our collective work emphasizes expanding a community’s capacity to collaborate with the goal of addressing complex social problems.

Working together to address challenging problems is a fairly simple concept;  it lies at the heart of models like collective impact and national initiatives such as Build Healthy Place and Purpose-Built Communities. What often is taken for granted, however, is that working together is a capacity that must be developed both individually and collectively.  Many leaders and stakeholders are not afforded the time or resources to consider their roles within a collaborative or the chance to build the skills needed to be a better partner. There is an expectation that everyone can simply jump into collaborative work together. 

We have found that this expectation often results in disjointed approaches and reinforces existing power relationships.  Data and evaluation are one area that is often rife with collaborative challenges.  How can we more effectively build collaborative evaluation capacity without reinforcing negative power dynamics? How can we re-envision readiness for collaborative data work?  Here are some insights from our work:

Hot Tips

  • Make sure you are ready to be a good collaborative partner.  Before entering a collaborative with stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds and organizations around a particular issue, take time to reflect on your own organization’s readiness to engage in this way, your relational capacity.  Relational capacity elements include: ecosystem analysis, organizational awareness, relational skills, relational culture, cultural competency, program strategy alignment, and outcome analysis.
  • Create a deliberate space and time for learning together.  One strategy to increase a community’s local capacity to work in relation to one another is to create a learning community or network of non-profit and systems leaders.  Providing dedicated time and access to experts to acquire the core skills needed for cross-sector collaborations as well as engage in “real world” scenarios to apply the learning can lead to immediate and long-term contributions to community improvement.  This training infrastructure creates an environment for leaders to start thinking differently to address complex problems. The Pool Fellowship for Health is an example of this strategy.
  • Build mutual accountability and trust into the data system.  Many evaluation measures look outward at the collaborative impact on the community.  Turning the lens inward to focus on what is happening within the collaborative can reinforce important concepts like trust, diversity of voices, and shared accountability.  Evaluation methods such as Ripple Effect Mapping or Social Network Analysis can capture the expansion of social capital in the community and the strength and number of cross-sector relationships that are leading to new work. Outcome Harvesting and Most Significant Change are other techniques that can provide insights into how participating members look at the impact of the collaboration.

How do others work to build evaluation and data capacity for deep collaboration and how do you assess your readiness for this type of a community development approach?

Rad Resources


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Community Development TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community DevelopmentTopical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our CD TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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