CP TIG Week: Susan Wolfe on Cultural Awareness and Authenticity in Working with Communities on Health Disparities

My name is Susan Wolfe and I am a Senior Consultant at CNM Connect where I provide evaluation and capacity building services to non-profit organizations.  I am also the incoming chair for the CP TIG.  This week, the CP TIG will be presenting AEA 365 blogs related to working with initiatives to reduce health disparities.

As an evaluator, much of my more recent work has been with programs and organizations working to reduce health disparities.  While working in this area is very rewarding, it also presents challenges.  One challenge is that racism plays a role in creating many health disparities. There is mounting evidence that the everyday stressors African American women encounter contribute to low birthweight infants and infant mortality.  As a white woman participating in these discussions it is important that I exercise cultural competence and be sensitive to the needs of this population. Issues of race and ethnicity are frequently discussed during focus groups or key informant interviews relevant to health disparities, and having a level of comfort with them is important so as to not discourage dialogue.

Rad Resource:  One of the best resources I found for understanding and developing cross-cultural competency is by Kien Lee in her book chapter “Effecting Social Change in Diverse Contexts” in Scott and Wolfe’s “Community Psychology: Foundations for Practice”. The chapter includes clear definitions, strategies to engage to develop the competence, and resources with self-exploration and self-development assessment tools.

Another challenge I regularly confront is convincing organizations to truly engage the communities experiencing health disparities and work WITH them to solve the communities’ problems.  Professionals in most organizations are accustomed to the hierarchical relationship that has been established within the helping professions, so convincing them to come to the table as equal partners requires an important paradigm shift.

HOT TIP:  Be patient.  Large scale and systems level changes take time. Likely a series of baby steps will be needed and small wins will hopefully lead to systemic change.

HOT TIP: Coalition evaluation is useful for assisting community collaboratives with their development.  

COOL TRICK: Some time after the community collaborative has been established, conduct a member survey and a SWOT analysis to provide feedback regarding member perceptions of areas such as leadership, communication, and impact. Synthesize the information to help the group to identify potential areas of growth, as well are areas that require attention – internally and externally. More effective collaboratives are more likely to have greater impact on reducing health disparities.

RAD RESOURCE:  I often use the Coalition Member Assessment Tool develop by Tom Wolff for the member survey. It includes scales to measure vision, leadership and membership, structure, communication, activities, and outcomes.

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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