Investigating some of the issues pertaining to the evaluation of initiatives that seek to have a community-wide impact, this paper considers the impact of neighbourhoods and programs upon children and families.
Area-based (or place-based) initiatives often seek to have a whole-of-community impact. This recognises the way in which neighbourhoods can impact upon the health and wellbeing of children and families. Improvements in the community as a whole, such as increased “child-friendliness”, may improve outcomes for children and families.
Measuring the impact of an initiative on an entire community can be challenging. It may take a significant period of time before the impact of an initiative is felt at the community level. It can be difficult to attribute changes in the community directly to a specific initiative. An experimental or quasi-experimental design is the best method to use in order to estimate what the outcomes for children, families and communities would have been in absence of the intervention, however, for community-based agencies, experimental evaluation designs can be difficult to undertake.
Methods that can be used to collect data for the purpose of demonstrating the impact of a community-wide initiative include: surveying a representative sample of the community; key informant interviews and focus groups; using secondary source data; and mixed methods research.
There is a paucity of practical tools to measure many typical community-wide outcomes such as a child-friendly community and community empowerment. Universal tools for these types of outcomes are often viewed as inappropriate as the concepts are highly context specific.