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Evaluating the Community Engagement Process

In addition to ensuring that the community is engaged in the evaluation of a program, it is important to evaluate community engagement and its implementation. The purpose of this type of evaluation is to determine if the process of developing, implementing, and monitoring an intervention or program is indeed participatory in nature.

Questions to ask when evaluating community engagement include the following (CDC, 2009; Green et al., 1995; Israel et al., 1998):

  • Are the right community members at the table? This is a question that needs to be reassessed throughout the program or intervention because the “right community members” might change over time.
  • Does the process and structure of meetings allow for all voices to be heard and equally valued? For example, where do meetings take place, at what time of day or night, and who leads the meetings? What is the mechanism for decision-making or coming to consensus; how are conflicts handled?
  • How are community members involved in developing the program or intervention? Did they help conceptualize the project, establish project goals, and develop or plan the project? How did community members help assure that the program or intervention is culturally sensitive?
  • How are community members involved in implementing the program or intervention? Did they assist with the development of study materials or the implementation of project activities or provide space?
  • How are community members involved in program evaluation or data analysis? Did they help interpret or synthesize conclusions? Did they help develop or disseminate materials? Are they coauthors on all publication or products?
  • What kind of learning has occurred, for both the community and the academics? Have community members learned about evaluation or research methods? Have academics learned about the community health issues? Are there examples of co-learning?

As discussed in Chapter 6, social network analysis (SNA) is a mixed method that can be applied to the evaluation of community partnerships and community engagement (Freeman et al., 2006; Wasserman et al., 1994). This method looks at social relationships or connections and the strength of these connections. The relationships may be among a variety of entities, including people, institutions, and organizations. Methods that assess the linkages between people, activities, and locations are likely to be useful for understanding a community and its structure. SNA provides a set of tools for quantifying the connections between people based on ratings of similarity, frequency of interaction, or some other metric of interest. The resultant pattern of connections is displayed as a visual graphic of interacting entities depicting the interactions and their strength. Data for SNA may be collected through secondary (existing) sources or primary (new) sources, such as interviews and surveys. SNA is a useful approach to the evaluation of community partnerships and their sustainability as well as the impact of the partnership on community engagement (Wasserman et al., 1994). It is also useful in formative work to understand social networks and in planning and implementing organizational structures to facilitate community engagement initiatives as discussed in Chapter 4.

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