Great question! There are several ways a community can evaluate their own programs. One of the first things communities can do is begin to think about evaluation capacity building. How can communities introduce the topic of evaluation in a welcoming and informative manner? Strategies to do this include signing up for evaluation webinars (make sure to check out the Homeless Hub website to see when these webinars occur!), checking out online tools (such as the forthcoming tools we’re developing!), and connecting with a program evaluator to provide an introduction to the topic. By developing a knowledge base beforehand, it will help to ease the anxiety communities may have about evaluation.
Once you have developed an understanding of evaluation, then communities can begin to think about the kinds of evaluation they would like to do. One of the best starting points is to think about developing a logic model for your program. A logic model helps you to identify the core of your program and puts its elements on paper. Developing a logic model is a fantastic exercise and can really get your program staff on the same page. This process involves looking over program documentation and talking with managers, staff, and clients of the program about what the key elements of the program are. From there, you may want to think about evaluating how your program is operating and what outcomes it is achieving. For these types of evaluations, you could think about conducting surveys with staff and clients and monitoring client outcomes.
Important in any evaluation is the development of some sort of data collection mechanism. You will need to know the basics about who is accessing your program, what kinds of services they are using, and how they are doing in your program. There are packages out there that can help you with data collection, including the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS), or you may already have some form of data collection strategy or want to develop something on your own.
Your community may also want to task someone as the evaluation champion. This person could serve as someone who keeps informed about evaluation strategies, monitors data collection, and figures out evaluation plans. It is good to have an evaluation champion who has a bit of time dedicated to this role, since we know that the demands of a job in the homeless service sector can be overwhelming. This person could also collaborate with an evaluator external to the program to support them when challenges occur.
I hope this has provided you some guidance on how communities can evaluate their programs