Community engagement is an ongoing process of collaboration and co-learning. When we evaluate our community engagement initiatives, we give ourselves the opportunity to measure our deeper impact and make improvements for future projects.
When we engage with our communities, it’s likely that participants will want to understand how their input translated into outcomes. If they’ve made the effort to offer their time, expertise, and feedback, they will want to know how effective any subsequent plans or policies have been.
What did “success” look like and was it achieved?
Your own organization will also want to know how effective your programs are so that they can take timely corrective action and enhance future community engagement efforts. With the right strategies in place, we can evaluate and monitor our community engagement efforts throughout the entire project lifecycle.
There are a number of key evaluation phases (or key moments) in which you can take a step back, reflect, and evaluate your progress so far:
When we plan a community engagement project, it’s important that we approach it with the right mindset. While we need to take a roadmap to our communities, we need to be open-minded about whether or not we’re solving the real problem and be prepared to ask the right questions.
That often requires taking time to rigorously identify stakeholders and clearly define our short and long-term goals. We also need to ensure that our objectives and clear and that we are using best practices from other programs.
You can engage the community as partners in the planning and design of your engagement plan so that you can get their feedback early on. They can provide advice as to how to reach the right stakeholders and if you need to reshape your questions. A small, but representative focus group can help you evaluate if your engagement project design is effective and culturally sensitive in the early days.
As you start rolling out your community engagement initiative, it’s important to ensure that you’re recruiting and retaining the intended stakeholders. You also need to be able to check that your engagement materials are being understood accurately, that projected timelines are being met, that you are coordinating efficiently with your partners, and meeting your legal requirements.
Monitoring these elements can help you make agile corrections throughout the entire project lifecycle.
It’s a good idea to collect demographic data about your participants any time that you engage and use your online community engagement platform’s reporting tools to make sure that you’re on track. You can also continue to run surveys or forums with representative focus groups or partners to keep your ear to the ground.
The stronger your relationships are with influential community stakeholders, the more valuable feedback you will receive about how your initiative is being perceived.
It’s important that you understand the impact that your engagement efforts have had on the community. That means you should reflect on the goals and objectives you established during the planning phase and measure your immediate outcomes or long-term impacts. Comparing your overall performance against the initial goals helps you to understand how effective and sustainable your solutions have been.
You can also conduct online surveys and sentiment analysis using a stakeholder relationship management platform to understand their perceptions now that the project has been completed. However, many of your insights will also come from being on the ground, assessing the community’s excitement at face-to-face consultations or events, and asking for feedback from your partner networks.
After you complete the key phases of your project, you should share the results. Providing full disclosure and a balanced assessment of your project in a community engagement report is a great way to build trust within your community.
Using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative metrics, it’s an opportunity to explore whether or not the right community members were at the table and if your program or intervention drove meaningful and positive impacts.
You can also explain the actions that your organization is taking now based on the results, how to get involved in future projects, and how community members can continue to stay informed on the issue you were addressing.
A process of ongoing learning.
Every time we engage with our community, we need to reflect, gather learnings, and extract as many insights as we can for future projects. Having an online engagement platform that is consistently capturing your progress ensures you can continue to expand your practice. However, it also ensures that you can consistently celebrate each milestone along the way, from planning to reporting!