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Evaluating AIM for CHangE Project

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December 25, 2019


Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we’re talking about evaluating the AIM for CHangE project. Hello, I’m Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm & Family. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Connie Baird Thomas, research professor. Connie, what is your role in this project?

Dr. Connie Baird Thomas: We are working to provide evaluation support for the Aim for Change program that is being implemented by MSU Extension. We are what is considered an external evaluator, meaning that we are not part of the program staff and are not involved in the implementing the program in the community. Now we do Extension to talk about what the evaluation will look like and what kinds of data we need to collect and how to collect that data. We also work closely with them to understand the program, so we can be sure that we are capturing all of the information that we need.

Amy Myers: What exactly does evaluation involve?

Dr. Connie Baird Thomas: When you mention the word evaluation, it carries a different meaning for different people. By the same token it evokes different feelings based on how you view evaluation. When thinking about a program, one way that evaluation is viewed, as the term suggests, is to look at whether that program has value or merit. In other words, is the program providing the outcomes that were expected, because funders are looking for outcomes for their investments.  They want to know, is it doing what it is supposed to do? And that is a very real and very valid way to look at program evaluation. Unfortunately, that is when people sometimes get a little anxious when you talk about program evaluation. But an evaluation doesn’t necessarily have to cause angst if you think about the various ways that evaluation can be used. Evaluations can be very useful in providing program managers with information not only about outcomes but also about how the program is working. Some questions evaluation can answer are: Is the program being implemented as it was designed? You may have a wonderful program, but if all parts of it are not in place as they should, you won’t be able to say if the program “worked” because it did not operate in the community as it should have been. Other questions you may ask, Is it being directed to the right people? What are some of the challenges for the program and how are they being addressed? Are they using it at the appropriate level?  Answers to these questions can give so much valuable information that can help improve program services and outcomes, if they are asked at the appropriate points and from the right people. For example, if you have a program in a particular community and you plan to expand it to others. You don’t want to wait until the end of the program period to find out that the community was not as engaged as you expected or that some components of the program were not working as expected.  If you have that information before you expand or continue the program you will have time to correct the issues so that it can be successful. In order to do that you have to have feedback from community members who take part in the program or who you hope will take part in the program. I can’t stress how important that feedback is in an evaluation, especially for program managers and people who are working on the ground in communities, to hear community voices.

Amy Myers: How is information about the evaluation be collected?

Dr. Connie Baird Thomas: For the Aim for Change program we are using evaluation to look at two specific outcomes: increased access to healthy foods and increased physical activity, focusing on walking to everyday locations. When we look at these two areas, we think that one of the best ways to get that information is to simply ask people about their activities in these two areas. So some people in the counties where the programs are put in place may get a request to complete a survey where they will answer some questions related to their where they purchase food and what types of foods they purchase. We’ll also ask some questions about how much physical activity they are involved in. Nothing complicated- just to get them to talk about their regular everyday activities.We are still working on the questions to ask but should have a draft of the survey completed soon. Again, I want to stress the importance of completing a survey if you get one and to be open and honest in your responses. Be confident that all of the answers will be used to get valuable information about the program that we otherwise would not have access to.

We will get survey responses from several hundred people and all of those responses will be combined, so no one should feel that their individual responses will be identified. We know that people get a lot of requests to take part in various surveys and questionnaires, but there really is no other way for us to get this information, so they are a very important part of the evaluation and will help us provide the program staff and others interested in the project with the valuable information that they need.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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