Tips for Planning and Evaluating a Neighbourhood Action Strategy

Submitted by Christie Nash on November 30, 2015 - 6:45am
Presented by Sarah Wakefield, PhD

 

On Thursday November 26, 2015 Tamarack hosted a webinar with guest Sarah Wakefield, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto, who shared lessons learned while evaluating large-scale, multi-stakeholder interventions that bundle together multiple projects, working with a variety of diverse stakeholders and communicating the findings to decision-makers. Using  work with Hamilton, Ontario’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy as a case example, this webinar discussed ways of evaluating the planning, implementation, and ultimate outcomes of these kinds of interventions. 

After the webinar, Sylvia Cheuy and Sarah took it offline to discuss helpful tips and suggestions for building Neighbourhood Strategies and integrating evaluation into the process.  You can read the helpful tips here.

- See more at: http://deepeningcommunity.ca/library-topics/neighbourhood-change/webinar-evaluating-hamiltons-neighbourhood-action-strategy-0#sthash.bFMidrn5.dpuf

On Thursday November 26, 2015 Tamarack hosted a webinar with guest Sarah Wakefield, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto, who shared lessons learned while evaluating large-scale, multi-stakeholder interventions that bundle together multiple projects, working with a variety of diverse stakeholders and communicating the findings to decision-makers. Using  work with Hamilton, Ontario’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy as a case example, this webinar discussed ways of evaluating the planning, implementation, and ultimate outcomes of these kinds of interventions. 

After the webinar, Sylvia Cheuy and Sarah took it offline to discuss what advice Sarah would give to other municipalities who are just now beginning to embark on developing neighbourhood-based strategies from an evaluation perspective.

Here are Sarah's helpful suggestions:

- Make sure the purpose and goals of the strategy are very clearly articulated (in writing) at the outset (and make sure all partners / stakeholders share and sign onto these goals). This will help reduce (although won't eliminate) confusion and conflict, and will help ensure what is being measured is what people want measured.

 - Keep the focus on inclusion, equity, and meaningful participation.  From my perspective (and I suspect from Tamarack's as well), this work is really only going to be effective if the perspectives of marginalized residents are front and center.

 - Provide resources for community development work. I think this project would look very different without the CDs.‎ Also, one thing we have found is that our partner communities don't respond very well to a "plug and play" model of staffing - that is, the residents invest in personal relationships with PEOPLE, not positions, and so it is important to respect that by putting people in place who are able to stick around for some time (ideally, people who are currently neighbourhood residents).

 - ‎Prepare for the long haul! Doing this kind of initiative needs a long term commitment, because building trust and changing practice takes time.

- Set aside resources for evaluation (and /or find evaluation partners. One issue that we didn't really talk about was cost. This whole evaluation has been VERY expensive, but very little of the cost has been borne by the City, because the academic partners have been successful in getting research grants to do this work. ‎ I think this community-university partnership has been important in raising the capacity of everyone (academic, city, and community partners) in working together, which is an investment in the future as well. In terms of cost, best practice is 10-15% of the project cost, but we find it makes more sense to price out what you actually want to do and make sure each component can be rigorous (see below).

 - Start thinking about - and doing - the evaluation as soon as possible, as having some kind of baseline is often important for comparison, and documenting the process right from the beginning can help in understanding challenges down the road. 

 - Do the best job you can with the resources you have available (e.g., don't do a survey at all unless the sample size can be large). This is where having academic partners can be helpful, to provide input on how to make the data gathering and analysis as rigorous as possible. Using indicators drawn from existing data, especially city data (e.g., number of property maintenance complaints) can ‎be a cost-effective way to look at outcome. If I had to make a choice, I would focus on action tracking as the most important evaluation component - our current model is to do focus groups once a year with residents to assess progress, and if there was a similar focus group done with city staff, I think a lot of the related qualitative info could be gathered cost-effectively.

 - I would strongly recommend ‎adopting a developmental approach, rather than something more rigid, particularly for the process components.

If you are interested in listening to the full webinar, you can do so here.