Cross-sector partnerships and collective impact models offer significant potential to advance community health and equity, from addressing complex issues like housing or community trauma to achieving meaningful policy or systems change. Yet measuring the progress and impact of these models can be difficult. For changemakers and communities looking to build and sustain funding and participation in cross-sector efforts, this poses a challenge.
The good news? Sound planning and the right ingredients can help pave the way. Through CORE’s work with more than a dozen cross-sector initiatives—including Accountable Communities of Health, Coordinated Care Organizations, community coalitions and collaboratives—we’ve identified four key ingredients for more effective measurement and evaluation of cross sector work. Read on to learn more. And feel free to get in touch to learn more about CORE’s work in this area.
1. Clear Model & Goals
Sounds obvious, right? But before getting into measurement, you need to define and agree upon the collaborative’s goals. You should also lay out some clear logic for how the group’s work will achieve those goals. This builds shared understanding, while also helping identify what to measure. There are a number of tried and true approaches: a logic model, driver diagram, theory of change, etc. Use whatever format works for the group!
You’ll also need to articulate the timeline. Considering how the coalition’s actions, community involvement, or other factors might build toward your long-term outcomes will highlight opportunities for earlier measurement. Earlier measurement gives you a chance to adjust your strategies if needed. Finally, you may need to translate your goals—e.g. reduce homelessness—into a readily measurable form, like monthly number of people experiencing homelessness across city tracking systems.
2. Defined Audiences & Use Cases
Consider the audiences for this measurement. What do they hope to accomplish with the information? And what level of evidence will they need to take the relevant action? You may not need fancy statistical methods to get there; it depends on the audience’s needs. What matters most is that the information is both trustworthy and useful for stakeholders.
Most cross-sector efforts include at least three key audiences:
- The collaborative itself, which needs measurement and evaluation to monitor progress, fine tune strategy, and hold itself accountable
- Funders, who are looking for a rationale for or benefit from their investment
- Community members and those who are impacted by the work
3. Diverse Data
In most cases, no one source of measurement will tell the whole story. It’s important to strike a balance across different kinds of measures, types of data, and time frames.
This is especially true for complex, multi-sector initiatives. A balanced approach allows you to see the problem from different angles, and to compare and contrast findings across measures or data sources to reveal patterns or gaps that would otherwise be missed.
4. Creative Evaluation Design
Not every project requires innovative methodologies, but it’s important to be open to them. For collaboratives working on complex issues like health inequities, which are driven by multiple factors and often the subject of several concurrent improvement efforts, traditional statistical methods or pre-post designs may not be effective to assess the collaborative’s impact.
To overcome that challenge, consider some of the more responsive approaches like process tracing, community-based participatory evaluation, or social network analysis. If there is a lack of existing data, one option is to conduct qualitative coding of documents and records to help create structured information for analysis. Talk with your evaluation partner about how these approaches can help meet your goals.