How do you know if your community engagement work is going well? How engaged are your community partners? Are your community partnerships and collaborators happy with the information that they are receiving and the way that they are receiving it? Are you missing the mark in any of your community engagement work?
These are all very important questions to consider around community engagement and KMb. In fact, as Goodman and colleagues (2017) have stated, “measuring the extent of partner engagement is of critical importance both as partnerships are developing and as a predictor of outcomes in the larger study” (p. 19). Moreover, there has been a call for researchers to enhance their work evaluating community engagement within their projects, with MacQueen and colleagues (2015) stating that:
There is a critical need to enhance work in evaluating community engagement—to ensure that the work on the ground reflects the intentions expressed in the guidelines, and also to investigate the contribution of specific community engagement practices for making research responsive to community needs and concerns. We encourage further research in this area, and recommend that research groups nest evaluation mechanisms in their community engagement practices to be able to develop a refined and evidence-based understanding of what aspects of current community engagement work is effective, and to identify areas where further work is needed. (p. 7)
But how do you measure the success and impact of community engagement? One way to do this is through tracking and evaluation. Evaluation of your community engagement can help you assess your engagement and collaboration efforts, and it is a key component to your project’s success.
A very high-level definition of evaluation is that it is the rigorous collection of valuable, reliable, and useful information about a program or project for the purposes of one or more of the following: programs and organizational improvement, oversight and compliance, assessment of worth, and knowledge development (Mark, Henry & Julnes, 2000). Additionally, evaluation involves “the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs, for use by people to reduce uncertainties, improve effectiveness, and make decisions” (Patton, 2008, p. 39). In general, evaluation involves systematically collecting information and analyzing it to see whether your efforts match what you set out to do (Whitman & Wadud, 2013) and can be considered “assisted sensemaking” (Mark, Henry & Julnes, 1999, p. 179) that can help you, your team and your partners/stakeholders determine where things are going right and where you may need to make some changes to your process.
There is no single way of doing evaluation. The evaluation process that you develop and implement will depend on the project and community needs and circumstances, the KMb strategies used, and the changes the team would like to see collectively.