We can design evidence-informed strategies to increase vital services. We just ignore the opinions of the hydras.
“TERMS OF SURVIVAL” SERIES
This twenty-part series introduces you to twenty key terms used in a local mobilizing process that you and your community will require to survive and thrive during colliding crises. The articles will reference the three-headed hydras of apathy, envy and fear, those people in positions of power who are fighting to keep a broken status quo.
Concept 15: evidence-informed strategies
As we seek to improve the quality of family services and their accessibility, we will research evidence-informed strategies. We will find that many of the solutions to our local challenges have already been tested and evaluated in other localities, meaning we don’t need to reinvent wheels. In economic free fall, we do need to implement the strategies shown to increase access to vital services with a sense of urgency.
Noun. the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.
Verb. be or show evidence of.
Scientific evidence consists of observations and experimental results that serve to support, refute, or modify a scientific hypothesis or theory. For example, the 100% Community initiative’s hypothesis is:
If we ensure that 100% of county residents have access to timely health care and nine other services for surviving and thriving, residents will be healthier.
To gather evidence to support this hypothesis, we can survey county residents to learn about their health and their access to services as the initiative grows year after year.
Research, not hunches, guesswork and whims
Evidence-informed practice is used to design systems, programs and activities using information about what works. It means using evidence to identify the potential benefits, harms and costs of any intervention and also acknowledging that what works in one context may not be appropriate or feasible in another. Evidence-informed practice brings together local experience and expertise with the best available evidence from research.
There are two ways evidence-informed practice should influence our work to increase services to increase health and safety outcomes.
First, we should consider evidence when we are in the planning stages of an intervention or program.
Second, the program should be evaluated and the findings disseminated, helping build the evidence base.
Evidence requires data
The evidence we use could be about the links between a new program and respected theory. It could be about components of the program or an approach we are taking, or it could be about the overall effectiveness of the program.
Evidence can be numerical information analyzed statistically (quantitative data) or can be descriptive information gathered from interviews or open-ended questions (qualitative data). For it to be evidence, it needs to be collected in a systematic manner and it needs to be informed by research and/or evaluation.
Evidence used in the health, education and economic development promotion context can come from a range of sources. For example, we could use evidence from our own services if we have run the program before and collected evidence to show it works; evidence could come from the evaluation of a program run by a similar organization; or it could come from the broad research base.
Improving Programs and Inventing Systems: The need for evidence-informed strategies
We are working to increase the quality of individual organizations that provide services within one of ten sectors, for example the Food Sector. This is called program development and we use continuous quality improvement to assess challenges within a program like a downtown food pantry. We can then move to planning, action and evaluation to improve overall quality and performance of the food pantry (or any food security-related organization). This is collaborative work between the 100% Community action team and each agency.
We are also working to create a countywide system for a particular sector, such as the Food Sector. In this work, we are linking, via technology and collaboration on the part of organizations leadership, to design a seamless network. This would mean, to end food insecurity, all the county’s organizations that provide food are in constant communication with each other, with a data system that tracks supply and demand. The end result of this work would be the creation of the “County X Coalition of Food Security” or the “Food@100% County Network.” This is collaborative work between the 100% action team and all the service providers (and funders of providers) working in the county.
Whether we are improving programs or designing countywide systems (made up of programs), we are using evidence to support our practices.
If there is a gap in the evidence base we can innovate and develop an approach based on available evidence. We can develop a pilot, collect evidence and evaluate it — we just need to demonstrate there is a gap in the evidence and that the pilot is building the basis for further research.
What we need to know about evidence
To practice in an evidence-informed way requires us to know about:
- the health, education or economic issue being addressed
- what the evidence tells us works to bring about desired outcomes
- how to put what works into practice effectively
- who to involve and how to involve them, including partners, communities and key stakeholders
- why action is needed
- the size, duration and sophistication of the intervention.
As we work in ten inter-connected sectors, each county will be developing innovative projects to increase user-friendliness and access. Each project we take on is using a data-driven process of assessment, planning, action and evaluation. This is a process that seeks to acquire evidence of effectiveness.
We are on a path to yield practical and concrete results. At the end of the day we must ask, to what degree do our county residents have access to the ten services for surviving and thriving? As a result of our work over the months and years, did we move the needle and increase action and availability? As a result of access to ten vital services, are 100% of our county residents healthier, safer and more self-sufficient?
With evidence, we can answer those questions.
See 100% Community, Chapter 40: First We Survive, Then We Can Thrive
The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.
Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? Answers await you here: www.tenvitalservices.org