Use an Organized Approach to Examine Status of Community
Prior to launching a campaign for community-wide change it is prudent to ask questions that will inform and drive the efforts. For example, what are the issues/problems, what already exists, what has worked, what has failed, who are the key implementers, who is the audience, what are the resources available, and what have been barriers to successful community change.
The steering committee will realize they need a strategy for asking and answering the questions. Before selecting an assessment process and tool, it is recommended that the goals of your evaluation be clearly articulated and agreed upon. The strategic team needs to consider available resources (human and financial) to conduct the assessment, and be committed to utilizing the findings of the assessment.
Keep it Simple
There are many assessment tools available from simple and quick to lengthy and complex. These include: gap analysis, asset mapping, SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), wealth assessment (people, things, services, resources), strengths-based perspective, appreciative inquiry, and risk assessment.
Depending on the questions asked and the resources available, select a tool that meets the needs. Do not over commit to extensive assessments that will take too much time, staff resources, and energy. Be deliberate in matching the assessment tool to answer the specific questions about your community. When building and maintaining the coalition team, especially during the assessment phase, it is best to provide short-term and easily achievable goals. The assessment phase should be focused, deliberate, efficient, and goal oriented. A lengthy and complicated assessment phase can potentially erode the enthusiasm and momentum of the project.
This process approaches community building from a capacity-focused perspective. Using local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community change, asset mapping identifies and develops internal capacities and relationships. These can include human, financial, material, entrepreneurial and other resources. Select the aspects of the mapping process that are realistic for your community and coalition.
Building Communities from the Inside Out
The following article from the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University provides a good overview of asset mapping as developed by Drs. Kretzmann and McKnight. It explains the advantages to asset-based community development.
Community Asset Mapping: A Critical Strategy for Service
This extensive guide provides training modules, activities, worksheets, and instructions that are useful for conducting a thorough evaluation of community assets. A free downloadable copy of the Bonner Curriculum is available at the website. To register, click on ‘download this document free.'
Wisconsin Health Care and Coverage Asset Mapping Tool
This tool was used to inventory statewide resources for health care coverage for children and youth with special needs. This qualitative assessment suggests key stakeholders and presents questions to be asked.
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) is a simple and effective method to examine community characteristics internally and externally. Originally developed for the business setting, it has proven useful for community health, education, and personal growth.
The purpose of SWOT is to gather information to recognize potential problems and identify community forces that work together. The findings can be used to prioritize initiatives and develop strategic plans. Examples of several formats, graphics, and suggested analysis organization are included as part of comprehensive coverage in Chapter 3 Section 14 of the Community Toolbox.
The overview is in the form of presentations, tools and checklists, examples, and related articles. The tools and checklist link give direction for developing and conducting the analyses.
Another SWOT source of information aimed at businesses but applicable to community building, is the Businessball.com website. The site provides an explanation of SWOT, its uses, examples, and a free template to develop your utilization tool.
Community Toolbox: Assessing Community Needs and Resources (Chapter 3)
This chapter provides extensive information on assessing the community. Several links throughout the chapter provide information and tools for general planning, gathering community input (from public forum, focus groups, interviews, surveys, data, and geographic information systems [GPS]), and understanding community capacity. Each section contains:
Real world examples
Tools and checklists
Center for Disease Control CHANGE Tool
The Community Health Assessment and Group Evaluation (CHANGE) tool was developed to assist communities: view a snapshot of their current local policies, systems, and environmental conditions (assets and needs), develop an action plan, and prioritize needs and allocate resources.
As a data collection tool (using a 5-point scale), CHANGE gathers information on specific community health indicators related to:
Chronic disease management
Leadership in schools, worksites, health care sites, community- at-large, and community institutions
A final version with detailed instructions will be posted on the CDC Healthy Communities Program website in Spring 2010.
Association for Community Health Improvements
Community Health Assessment Toolkit presentation and factsheet are available for free, but other tools require registering as a healthcare professional and payment to access additional information.
Active Living Research Tools & Research Section
Active Living Research is focused on preventing obesity through physical activity. The Tools & Resources tab provides a wide range of resources concerning active living including recent research articles, a searchable literature database, and an extensive list of surveys, inventories, and measurement instruments (to determine the use of walking trails, parks, paths, beaches, bikes routes, and play areas). Other instruments include assessing the food environment of the community by surveying grocery stores, worksites, food product lists, restaurants, and school food programs.
Community Healthy Living Index (CHLI)
CHLI is a part of Activate America®, the YMCA’s response to the nation’s health crisis. It contains five community assessment tools that measure opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating in areas that impact an individual’s daily life. These tools also facilitate discussion about how to improve the community environment to increase opportunities for healthy living.
The tools and instructions are available as either online instruments or printed pdf files. Assessments include:
- After School Child Care Sites
It also provides templates for press releases announcing projects and communicating the results to the public.