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Six Hot Tips to Jump Start Your Coalition Evaluation

Coalitions are powerful vehicles for building the skills of professionals and volunteers, thereby empowering them to advocate and act on behalf of priority populations within their communities. Since I get more requests for training and technical assistance on evaluation than any other topic, I’ll share the hot tips that I offered for evaluators at The American Evaluation Association meeting last October to enhance any coalition’s efforts to evaluate itself and its initiatives.These tips also can be found in a Powerpoint presentation on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/franbutterfoss
8questions_blog11. Let questions about your coalition and its strategies drive evaluation. Any evaluation should balance measures of how the coalition does its work with evidence that its strategies work. List questions that you have about your coalition, then collect data to answer them.
2. Enlist partners’ help to build buy-in and cooperation. Evaluations that successfully engage community members are more likely to develop relevant evaluation methods and tools and gain community credibility and participation in data collection efforts. For example, have members create short frequent surveys that reduce respondent burden and maximize participation.
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3. Use innovative, qualitative evaluation methods. Traditional evaluation methods do not always capture the dynamic nature and outcomes of coalitions. As coalition strategies become more complex and concentrate less on individual behavior change, use multifaceted approaches across multiple levels that take community readiness into account. Relying more on qualitative methods that better represent the community and figuring out how coalitions make a difference is a start.
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4. Focus on practice-proven strategies and measurable outcomes. Coalitions are best suited to assessment and priority-setting, rather than implementing projects. Concentrate on relevant health/ social outcomes, as well as on how partnerships build capacity by improving outcomes related to participation, member diversity, leadership, networks, skills, and resources. Coalition sustainability may be evaluated by tracking outcomes such as: community buy-in, infrastructure improvements, resource diversity, educational opportunities, and policy changes.
5. Provide training and technical assistance. Appropriate training, technical assistance and resources for conducting effective evaluations should be made available, so coalitions can translate evaluation results into actionable tasks.
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6. Begin where you are. Most coalitions view evaluation as a formidable task. You may feel overwhelmed by technical tasks, time/financial costs, and concerns that you might fail. Start small and evaluate one aspect of your coalition from each of three levels (short, intermediate and long-term) each year. Use and adapt others’ tools. Take advantage of existing data that can be evaluated with little or no cost. As examples, member diversity can be determined by assessing the roster; attendance patterns can be derived from meeting minutes. As confidence and skills grow, engage in new and more complex evaluation tasks.
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