Health Forward places a high emphasis on evaluation at all levels. Just as we, as a foundation, have an obligation to evaluate our role and contributions in our service area, we also have an obligation to ensure that the individual grants we give—be it a $10,000 or a $500,000 grant—are well evaluated. The purpose of evaluation is two-fold; to help an organization assess and/or improve a particular program, and provide Health Forward information to assess our own performance and react accordingly. The following guidelines may be informative for grantees thinking about their program evaluation and outcomes:
- Data should help determine program success however that is defined by an organization. Focus on collecting data that are useful for you. What information helps you to determine what worked, what didn’t work, what needs a modification or a change? If you aren’t planning on using the data yourself, it probably isn’t worth the time and effort spent collecting it.
- Grantees should be realistic regarding what they hope to accomplish giving the duration of the grants. For many, it is unlikely that long term behavior change will occur over the course of the project. Given that, what are reasonable short-term outcomes? Think about what you hope to accomplish over the time period and how that might be measured. For example, it is unlikely that a one-year grant to increase fresh vegetables provided at food banks would change weight or body mass index (BMI). However, it may be able to increase access, and consumption of such foods, which in the long term may indeed lead to such outcomes.
- Outcomes chosen should be appropriate for your activities and make sense for your particular project. A project on self-management of diabetes would likely focus on increasing knowledge and/or monitoring key outcomes such as blood sugar and A1C levels, but would not need to collect information on psychological well-being. Many projects collect information and report a score related to overall patient satisfaction. It may be more helpful to understand not simply whether clients are satisfied, but instead ask about particular program attributes, such as quality of care, ease of access etc.. That information allows one to understand what particular aspects could be improved, as opposed to just producing a numerical score.
- Sometimes less is more. While some programs may lend themselves to extensive evaluation and data collection efforts, some may not. In fact, if one measure is sufficient to provide the relevant information, it is not necessary to collect data simply to collect data. A program which provides short term medical assistance, such as prescription assistance or other durable medical goods, may focus on tracking the demographics of the clients they serve and the services that they provide. One would not expect this program to necessarily change behavior, nor would it necessarily be feasible to track these clients over a sufficient period of time.
- Focus on lessons learned. Health Forward is particularly interested in lessons learned from projects and how we can share such information with grantees. Thus, if a project didn’t accomplish all it had hoped, understanding the barriers to success is critical and important information to collect. Reporting on unintended consequences, whether positive or negative, is also an important part of the process.