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Needs Assessment TIG Week: The Power of Community Health Needs Assessments as a Tool for Community Engagement by Susana Morales

Hello! Welcome to the Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week on AEA365.  As the AEA proposal process for the 2024 AEA conference in Portland is underway, the NA TIG invites you to submit a proposal, volunteer to be a proposal reviewer, or simply join our TIG in your AEA profile.  Reach out to our TIG Chair Lisle Hites for more info.

My name is Susana Morales, and I am the Senior Learning and Evaluation officer at the St. David’s Foundation. Our mission is to advance health equity in Central Texas through investment and action. We conduct Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) to more deeply understand our region’s health needs – particularly those faced by historically-underserved community members – and use these findings to inform our strategy, guide our investments, and work alongside our community to improve the region’s health and well-being to advance health equity.  My post today aligns well with this year’s AEA conference theme: Amplifying and Empowering Voices in Evaluation.

With more than a decade of experience facilitating community engagement, I have completed my fair share of community health needs assessments. My current role enables me to combine the two. 

Today, I want to invite you into a conversation.

My main question is the following:

CHNAs provide a window to better understand community priorities, but can how can they also serve to uplift community voice?

CHNAs have minimum requirements for engagement but have the potential to be a vehicle for authentic community engagement.

Community engagement is a process. Here are some ideas on how CHNAs can be leveraged to foster authentic community engagement:

  1. Embrace an approach in which we authentically engage with community members through qualitative research by creating spaces for sensemaking of the findings.
  2. Establish an Advisory Committee formed by external and internal stakeholders to provide guidance and inform data collection and engagement.
  3. Constantly ask, “who is missing?” and practice equitable outreach.
  4. Co-create outcomes with community members.
  5. Engage with the community beyond the CHNA process.
  6. Circle back to the community regularly and share next steps.

My invitation to you is to help me finish this list and reflect on the following questions:

  • Based on your experience, what are additional thoughts and ideas to engage community throughout the CHNA process?
  • How might we hold ourselves accountable to the community engagement process?
  • At the end of the day, what does success looks like?

Rad Resources

  • This Community Engagement Procedure report from a city in Tasmania illustrates an example of the community engagement process.
  • This article, A Mixed-Methods Approach to Understanding Community Participation in Community Health Needs Assessments, explores the importance of community engagement and the potential CHNAs have to engage community.
  • The International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum describes five different levels of engagement, Involve, Consult, Involve, Collaborate and Empower.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week with our colleagues in the Needs Assessment Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our NA 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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