Healthier Together will work directly with community leaders to address complex health problems and bring about collective change. With this initiative, Palm Healthcare Foundation is shifting away from simply treating the symptoms of diverse health issues to understanding the root causes for these problems using a place-based, community-driven approach to engaged investment. Place-based approaches to tackling critical health issues have a dual purpose: to support collective change to address health problems and to build the capacity of communities to take sustained action in support of better, healthier, and happier lives.
When considering the question, “what does success look like?” in a complex and dynamic context such as a community-driven, multi-year, placed-based, funding approach to solving a community’s most complex issues, we understand that data and information are not ends in themselves; their power derives from the learning and knowledge that can result, and how that is then applied to achieve change. To support the ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and learning of the Healthier Together initiative, Action Evaluation Collaborative will be drawing from two key evaluative approaches: developmental evaluation and empowerment evaluation.
Developmental evaluation emerged in response to the need to support innovation, real-time learning, and adaptation in dynamic environments. This approach, coined initially through the work of Michael Quinn Patton (2011), is defined as ‘a strategic learning approach to decision-making and action throughout the life of the project, as actors and issues emerge, shift, and take unexpected turns that effect strategies and thus the results of the project.’ In developmental evaluations, evaluators partner directly with program implementers, bringing evaluative logic, knowledge about effective programming, and the application of effective and efficient methods to support ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and learning. Unlike many traditional approaches to evaluation with are detached and episodic and which may focus primarily on making program improvements or rendering judgment on the overall merit and worth of a static program or solely making a case for impact, developmental evaluation is embedded continuously as part of the initiative. It combines evaluative rigor with the flexibility and imagination required for ongoing program adaptation. As such, it “brings critical thinking to bear on the creative process in initiatives involving high levels of uncertainty, innovation, emergence, and social complexity” (Patton, 2011).
Empowerment evaluation is designed to help communities monitor their own performance, while fostering improvements and self-determination. This type of evaluation is often used in comprehensive, community-driven program such as the Healthier Together initiative. “Empowerment evaluation is an evaluation approach that aims to increase the likelihood that programs will achieve results by increasing the capacity of program stakeholders to plan, implement, and evaluate their own programs” (Wandersman, A., et al. 2005).