My name is Susan Wolfe and I am the owner of Susan Wolfe and Associates, LLC, a consulting firm that applies Community Psychology principles to strengthening organizations and communities. Applied research skills and program evaluation were core features of my Community Psychology graduate curriculum. Over the course of my evaluation career, I have become aware of how my discipline influences my approach, and I will share three ways here.
First, guiding concepts for community psychology include the use of interdisciplinary partnerships and approaches, and a participatory, empowering approach, informed by multiple perspectives.
HOT TIP: Incorporate the perspectives of multiple stakeholders into the evaluation design. Include stakeholders as active participants in all phases of the evaluation. That will facilitate buy-in for the results, broaden the utility of the findings, and help to identify potential unintended consequences for groups and individuals other than those targeted by the project.
Hot Tip: If possible, work with an interdisciplinary evaluation team. My collaborations with public health researchers, educators, social workers, and other disciplines have introduced me to alternative perspectives and methods, while enriching my content knowledge.
Second, one of Community Psychology’s guiding principles is attention to, and respect for, diversity among peoples and settings. If a program or evaluation design or content conflicts with the culture of the target audience, it may affect participation rates or receptivity and undermine the potential results.
Hot Tip: When you are evaluating a program include an assessment of the extent to which the program design, staff, and materials are culturally appropriate. Likewise, consider whether the questions you are asking are culturally relevant and your methods ensure that all participants have a voice in the evaluation.
And, third, Community Psychology takes an ecological perspective and recognizes the importance of looking across multiple levels and viewing programs within their context. To understand how well a program or policy is working, I have often found it helpful to look at contextual factors, such as culture, policy, physical environment, and history.
Hot Tip: When you design an evaluation, include assessing factors that might affect whether the context of the program or policy change will facilitate or inhibit its success, and the interactions between those factors and program components. Work within the context.