Of the many interesting presentations I attended at the All In National Meeting last fall, Transforming Neighborhoods: Advancing Health Equity through Community Voice, was especially relevant to my work. In this workshop, Maggie Grieve, Vice President, Success Measures at NeighborWorks America, described a project that involved twenty organizations from across the United States in participatory evaluation through a collaboration between NeighborWorks America and Enterprise Community Partners, two large intermediaries that support housing and community development organizations. Programs included: “neighborhood improvement and community safety initiatives, youth education and services, housing improvements, and service coordination for residents in crisis, as well as housing-based services that focus on nutrition, physical activity, financial literacy, social activities, mental health and employment.”

Maggie explained that participating organizations received technical assistance and a $45,000 grant to support them in conducting two rounds of data collection and participating in a learning community. The demonstration project helped organizations undertake an evaluation of one of their programs utilizing Success Measures’ new Health Outcome Tools, which are “a set of 65 new data collection instruments” designed to measure outcomes of community development programs addressing social determinants of health.

With my interest sparked, I reviewed the report, On the Path to Health Equity: Building Capacity to Measure Health Outcomes in Community Development, that describes the project and explored the new Health Outcome Tools.

A photo from a Healthy Hill Initiative event in Springfield, MA.

Evaluation should involve program beneficiaries and shed light on how participants experience the program and its benefits, community needs that aren’t being met, and opportunities for improvement. From the many examples shared, organizations involved in the demonstration project met these goals and identified new program strategies for addressing social determinants of health.

One powerful example was led by Claretian Associates in South Chicago. Their data showed that health issues of residents living in the organization’s affordable housing included high blood pressure (57%), high cholesterol (49%), and diabetes (35%). They also learned that the lack of an affordable exercise facility was a key reason residents were not engaging in physical activity. With this understanding, Claretian embarked on plans for acquiring a property nearby that had been a YMCA, before it closed in 2017. Working with a national partner, Preservation for Affordable Housing (POAH), Claretian is now a co-owner of this property that includes recreation space, a fitness center and other facilities where Claretian provides community services. More on the demonstration project and Claretian’s success can be found in the Shelterforce article, Evaluating a Program’s Health Outcomes.

Another program described in the report is Chelsea Thrives, a cross-sector collaboration in Chelsea, MA that has received national attention for its comprehensive approach. It was evaluated by one of its core partners, The Neighborhood Developers (TND), that is also a member of the national NeighborWorks Network. The collaborative’s goals are to reduce crime by 30% over 10 years and improve the sense of community safety in Chelsea’s downtown area that struggles with criminal activity and public safety. The collaborative is making improvements including “hiring a downtown coordinator to work with small businesses and help activate public spaces,” assigning four community police officers to build community relationships in this area, and a commitment of $5.3 million for physical improvements.

TND’s evaluation identified improvements in community perceptions of safety between their first and second rounds of data collection. In one year, the number of residents reporting that they felt safe walking downtown increased by 14% for daytime hours and 17% for hours after dark.  These results, paired with an assessment that measured social connectedness, helped affirm the collaboratives’s approach and TND’s commitment to comprehensive community outreach.

BUILD communities may find the Health Outcome Tools a useful resource. As a member of the NeighborWorks Network, Way Finders has assessed neighborhood improvement with the help of Success Measures over many years; more recently, they found the Health Tools a good resource in developing assessments for some of its Healthy Hill Initiative programs. Useful data tools like these are regularly shared through the All In network, in which all BUILD awardees are eligible to participate. Learn more about All In and join the online community.

Many thanks to Sarah Page for sharing her insights from the 2019 All In National Meeting and her further exploration of the Health Outcomes Tools. Until recently, Sarah was Senior Vice President, Community Building and Engagement at Way Finders in Springfield, MA. As part of the BUILD 1.0 cohort, Way Finders and its collaborators launched the Healthy Hill Initiative (HHI). HHI works at the dynamic intersection of public safety, physical activity and social cohesion by implementing policy, program, and physical environment strategies. One successful outome has been training and engaging teams of Community Advocates. The Advocates work to improve Springfield’s Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School policies and how they are implementated in city neighborhoods.