CP TIG Week: Building Relationships for Community Transformation: Engaging the Community by Brittany Cook

Hi! I’m Brittany Cook, Ph. D., with the Wandersman Center. I’m trained as a clinical-community psychologist, so the principles of community psychology are always in the forefront of how I approach evaluation work. One of the partners of our center that I work closely with is Serve & Connect, a community non-profit founded by fellow community psychologist Kassy Alia Ray, Ph. D. Serve & Connect aims to improve communities and enhance community resilience through building trust and positive relationships among community residents and leaders, law enforcement, and local organizations. I want to share a bit about how the community psychology principles of citizen participation, collaboration and community strength, and empowerment in particular have shaped our evaluation work with Serve & Connect.

A core of both Serve & Connect’s model and our evaluation approach is the importance of community voice. This means not only trying to learn about community needs and the impact of Serve & Connect’s work from community members but relying on community members to know best what measurement strategies their community will welcome.

Lessons Learned:

For example, we developed a comprehensive survey and worked with a steering committee of local residents and leaders to develop the questions. However, as we were building trust between ourselves and the steering committee, they became more open in their feedback about measurement strategies. When community member on the local steering committee said that community members were not likely to complete a survey and that a survey might actually inhibit the trust Serve & Connect was trying to foster, we listened.

Cool Tricks:

Instead, we developed a variety of measurement strategies including dot surveys and brief interviews that got at the same key questions but in a more inter-personal—and some community residents even said fun—way.

By having community members engaged in the process of developing evaluation questions and strategies, we are ensuring that the questions we ask will be relevant and clear and that our methods will result in better response rates. Moreover, we are helping community members to build skills that will help foster community empowerment and leading more people to see the benefits of evaluation.

Rad Resource:

Assessing Community Needs and Resources from Community Toolbox

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating CP TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community Psychology Topical Interest Group. The contributions all week come from CP 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.

2 thoughts on “CP TIG Week: Building Relationships for Community Transformation: Engaging the Community by Brittany Cook”

  1. Hi Brittany,

    I am a student at Queens University, enrolled in my Professional Masters of Education and currently taking a course in Program Inquiry and Evaluation. Your approach to evaluation work instantly caught my eye while reading through the AEA 365 blog posts. Your commitment to engaging members in the community provides the opportunity to build trust, create positive relationships, provide feedback, and most importantly, ensure the evaluation questions and strategies you are asking are relevant and clear resulting in better response rates. This made me think about a topic we have discussed around participatory evaluation. One of the best ways to involve stakeholders is to ensure that their needs and those of the community are addressed and allow room for participation. I appreciated your “cool tricks” section, adding in the idea of including dot surveys and brief interviews to get more inter-personal and make it more fun for participants. The question I have is around the implementation of the dot and brief interviews. Were they shared with others amongst the community, or were they completed individually. How were members addressed? This is an excellent way, as you mentioned, to make it “fun” for the community residents.

    Thank you for providing us with the available resource, Assessing Community Needs and Resources. This source provides us with a significant amount of assessments, some of which I have employed. The SWOAT analysis is a great tool to analyze the internal and external factors that can affect your work or the evaluation. I have conducted several SWOT analyses at the advertising firm I worked at a couple of years ago, which provided us lots of success. There are several different formats that you can use while conducting a SWOT analysis; I find that developing a SWOT with a small group allows for the strengths and weaknesses of the program to flourish and gather different perspectives from all stakeholders involved. In the end, this will enable you to make strategic plans and decisions. I am curious, have you used any of these provided toolkit assessments? Are there any that you have had success with?

    I also appreciated the section on “Collecting Information About the Problem”. Collecting the right information is crucial and can be challenging at times. It is a lot of work, and I often get stuck in finding the correct ways to collect the right information. The ten steps in information collection provided me with a great deal of information, so thank you for sharing this!

    Thanks for your insight on engaging the community and for sharing your knowledge!

  2. Brittany,
    I really like how you changed your plan and better met the needs of the community residents. It sounds like your results were far more authentic than if you would have stuck with your initial plans. When you introduced the dot surveys, did you have the posters in a private room so that community residents had a chance to participate anonymously? Or did participants complete them together with other community members? I can see benefits to both of them and imagine it would be different depending on the stakeholder’s needs. I am currently doing my master’s and have been examining evaluation methods and I am realizing that every program has its own unique set of circumstances that we need to be aware of and consider at every part of the process. How long did this evaluation process last? Did you find that more community members were willing to be interviewed after they heard other community members’ positive experiences?

    Thank you for adding the rad resource Assessing Community Needs and Resources from Community Toolbox. I have found many of the assessment ideas useful. I particularly like the SWOT analysis. After looking at it I realized my school district used this process a few years ago to help with developing a five-year plan for our district. I remember the experience fondly. It was an excellent chance for us to give feedback to our district without being singled out. Every staff member within the district had a chance to go through the process and give their feedback. They then selected a group of us to compile the data from all of the sessions and look at common themes. I was lucky enough to be selected and it was one of the most informative sessions I have ever gone through. It was so interesting to see so many common themes and yet so many differences between the different schools and towns within our district. Have you ever had a chance to use SWOT analysis?
    Tenille Wright

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