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Five simple rules for evaluating complex community initiatives

Authors
Disciplines
  • Design
  • Political Science

Abstract

Complex community initiatives are. . . complex. Evaluating them can be an even more complex un-dertaking. Community change initiatives (CCIs)1, indeed most comprehensive place-based initiatives, consist of multiple interventions over a number of years at individual, group, institutional, social, and political levels. Any one of these interventions could be an evalu- ation in and of itself, but with a CCI, you want to capture what matters. But what do you measure? How often? Which methods should be used? And how does what you measure influence the very nature of the CCI itself? Over the past 10 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been funding, implementing, and evaluating Making Connections, a CCI in 10 urban neighborhoods across the U.S. As part of the evaluation team for this initiative, I found that I have compiled lists of rules and lessons for myself about the evaluation process, and these lists have become important reminders of things to consider when embarking on the evaluation of a comprehensive place- based initiative. In particular, the final evaluation and documentation of Making Connections has reinforced five lessons about evaluating CCIs that I wish I had known ten years ago. They’re certainly not hard-and-fast rules— maybe one lesson I’ve learned from this work is that there are no hard-and-fast rules! Instead, think of them as prompts to consider when planning and implementing evaluations of CCIs and other place-based initiatives. 1. Evaluations of complex, major initiatives are not experiments but part of the community change process When it comes to CCIs, there is no single theory or model, no simple causal relationship that can be tested with traditional experimental designs. You can forget Special Focus: Place-B ased Initiatives Five Simple Rules for Evaluating Complex Community Initiatives By Thomas Kelly, Jr., The Annie E. Casey Foundation 19Community Investments, Spring 2010 Volume 22, Issue 1 classic approaches such

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