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Getting the message across

By Carolina De La Rosa Mateo, graduate research assistant, Center for Family Development

I love the excitement of data collection and analysis. That’s because I am a first-year student in the University of Minnesota Master of Public Health program, which emphasizes the value of quality research.

As part of my graduate work, I have been on several teams and assisted in data collection for dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals. Currently, I’m on the Applied Research and Evaluation (ARE) Team with the Center for Family Development (FD).

I know that my team and the educators I work with care about data because evaluation is an important part of program improvement. But what about the people who actually participate in our programs? Or our partners? Or community members? I’m sure they care, too.

This led me to another question: What’s the point of collecting and analyzing data if we don’t share what we learn with partners and participants? The answer may be obvious: to give them the benefit of our knowledge, and to hold ourselves accountable to them.

Issuing a challenge

Still, I think it’s worth asking this question out loud. And I’d like to challenge all of us in FD to think more deliberately about how to report evaluation data back to communities. Put another way, I’d like to challenge all of us to get as excited about the communication process as we do about data collection and analysis.

In my role on the ARE Team, I have had the opportunity to review data for several studies and construct it into written reports, which we post on the FD intranet. We on the ARE Team expect staff and educators to read those reports so they can discuss them with their program partners and participants. And sometimes we meet with partners and participants ourselves to share evaluation results.

In-person sharing occurs through school open houses and other face-to-face meetings with stakeholders, either in small groups or community gatherings. One great example of this kind of sharing lies in FD’s partnership with the Bruce Vento Elementary School in St. Paul. That project seeks to create a trauma-sensitive learning environment at the school.

From the start of the project four years ago to recently, Children, Youth & Family Consortium and other FD staff met regularly with key stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community residents, to keep them informed of outcomes. This is one way to live the Extension mission to make University research and knowledge available to all Minnesotans.

Many ways to share information

Clearly, in-person meetings are ideal ways to share evaluation results. But there are other ways to share information that supplement and amplify face-to-face methods. Here are some things that come to mind:
  • Extension website: Our website is a great resource for the world to see all the great work U of M Extension does. You can work with FD Communications to post research reports, or summaries of those reports, on our public website. 
  • Bulletin boards. You can post full or summary research reports internally — on Extension bulletin boards or other central locations. And you can ask your stakeholders to post full or summary reports externally — on their bulletin boards or other central locations. 
  • Visual displays. If time permits, you can work with FD Communications on visual displays of evaluation data, such as this SNAP-Ed Works infographic. View some other examples of data visualization used across Extension on our Data Visualization Google site. Remember that creating these visual displays is often time-intensive, so save their use for significant or far-reaching studies. Next, place visual displays on the Extension website and encourage stakeholders to print out and post paper copies at their facilities. Likewise, post paper copies within Extension. 
  • Social networking sites and email. Almost everyone is connected to social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram. These can be a valuable, cost-effective way to share evaluation data with the public. And don’t forget email. You can also email evaluation results to partners, participants, and other stakeholders.

Get excited

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure you can come up with more of your own.

Next time you get caught up in the excitement of conducting an evaluation, think about the importance of communicating evaluation results to your stakeholders. And get excited about that, too!
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