CP TIG Week: Chris Michael Kirk on Mapping Health Disparities

Hello. My name is Chris Michael Kirk and I am the Director of Mission Development at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey where I lead our Center for Population Health Sciences. At the Center, we conduct applied population health research and disseminate and evaluate community health interventions, including our Healthy Communities Initiative designed to reducing health disparities in our region.

Our team (of mostly nurses and health educators) was doing amazing work in our communities, but struggled to prioritize these efforts and evaluate their effectiveness. While on a conference call for the health disparities workgroup, one member offered that we were providing an intervention targeted for low-income, Spanish-speaking populations in a wealthy suburb nearby. After I picked myself up off the floor, I asked the obvious question: “Why are we dedicating our limited resources to address health disparities where they do not exist?” Unfortunately, the answer was: “Because they asked us to”.

This exemplified the need to move our team toward data-based decision-making to guide program dissemination and evaluation metrics, but to do so in an accessible manner that built upon existing strengths and history.

Hot Tip: To move beyond jargon, we utilized GIS mapping of our community on key socioeconomic and demographic indicators alongside hospital utilization data to open up a discussion that helped our staff move from defensiveness over not responding to community requests to prioritization toward areas of greater need. By presenting maps accompanied by data tables, we matched the “hard data” with their lived experience working in the laundromats, grocery stores, and Hindu temples in those areas. “I know that neighborhood” was the rallying cry, creating space to build on their expertise and identify intervention opportunities in target communities.  

Lessons Learned: Our staff initially reacted to the word “evaluation” as if it were Ebola. They expressed unexpected confusion and concern and felt threatened. We discovered that it was the semantics, not the practice, that put up a barrier. On their own, staff developed elaborate systems for tracking repeat participants in community-based events. They wanted to know if their efforts were making an impact. By building on this desire and re-framing the question, we engaged them in a process to redesign the Initiative, eventually adding place-based approaches to our direct outreach.

Rad Resource: The Vulnerable Populations Footprint from Community Commons was one tool that we used to quickly visualize our communities and guide the conversation. By giving staff the ability to “play around” with the map, you can open up new lines of inquiry and give them buy-in on the resulting decisions.

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.

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