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News & Info

A Systems Approach to Organizational Assessment and Evaluation

The systems approach to evaluation refers to a theoretical orientation of evaluation practice that draws from systems theory in engineering and other technical sciences (Williams & Imam, 2007). Many evaluators find that principles of dynamic systems apply to the dynamic nature of human behavior and the organizational and social systems that arise from human interactions. Systems approaches to evaluation are being adapted to evaluate everything from small-scale individual programs to large-scale systems change (e.g., entire public health systems or efforts to address global food crises; Patton, 2010). There are many variations of systems approaches, and they differ in which principles are used and how they are applied in practice. The perspective discussed herein represents one of many ways of thinking about and applying systems theory in evaluation.

The Organization

Every organization is embedded in layers of context. Context can include everything from the sociopolitical environment in which an organization operates to the organizational system to which an organization belongs. For instance, an organization can be one clinic within a state health care provider system or even a national health care provider system. The organizational context can also include factors that impact the populations the organization serves, such as the socioeconomic status of its target population. These factors might be called the social context of the organization.

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Evaluating the Connecticut Health Foundation’s Strategic Plan

The Connecticut Health Foundation (CHF) was created in 1999 to understand and address the state’s health care challenges. In 2013, CHF deliberately focused on the singular need to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities for the state of Connecticut. Since the foundation’s inception, its efforts have aimed to change the systems that impact health care, and the foundation accomplishes this currently through grant making; conducting and supporting health policy research; and building the capacity of leaders, decision-makers, and organizations to advocate for health-systems changes throughout Connecticut.

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New Report from Community Science to Help City Governments Get Ready for Racial Equity Work

Community Science is proud to present one of our latest reports – lessons learned from a national initiative to help city governments get ready for racial equity work.

The Racial Equity Here (REH) initiative engaged and supported a cohort of five U.S. cities committed to improving racial equity in their jurisdictions by transforming policies and practices to address the inequities within their systems of government. Living Cities recruited the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a joint project of Race Forward and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, to provide training and technical assistance to these cities over a two-year period. During that time, the cities’ racial equity teams developed and implemented a capacity-building plan to dismantle institutional and structural racism and improve outcomes for all residents and, in particular, residents of color.

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Staff Profile: Ji Won Shon

Ji Won Shon, MSPH, Analyst, has experience conducting research and analysis on the social determinants of health, adolescent health and well-being, and place-based initiatives. Before joining Community Science, Ji Won served as a research assistant for the Research, Evaluation, Evidence and Data Unit at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where she supported the design and implementation of performance-management strategies and various research and evaluation projects. As a member of the Casey evaluation team for Evidence2Succcess, a multisite initiative engaging communities and public-systems leaders in identifying risk and protective factors and implementing evidence-based programs, she facilitated a collaborative process to decide on common cross-site performance metrics, developed data-collection guidance and tools for grantees, and prepared a data dashboard to share with stakeholders.

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Creating Equitable Communities Through Community Organizing

Many philanthropic organizations around the country have made it their mission to improve the lives of children and communities of color. Some of these organizations have used community organizing as a means of creating equitable communities by shifting power to those most affected, and strategically placing these individuals at the forefront of the community organizing process. This article discusses some of the foundational principles for promoting equity through the use of community organizing as a strategy.

Community organizing is said to have been started through the work of Saul Alinsky as illustrated in Rules for Radicals, which has since spurred a variety of approaches. National organizations such as PICO, Metro IAF, and the Virginia Organizing Project have become known for their distinct community organizing approaches and work.

Community organizing is a process that involves (a) developing meaningful relationships and gaining an understanding of community context and conditions, (b) educating community members on an issue, (c) mobilizing community members to take action and create community-level change, and (d) building the capacity of community members to effect systemic change. The ultimate goal is to create an environment where community members hold the power in their communities. Community power means that residents have the influence to acquire the resources and promote the systemic changes needed to improve their environment and conditions. Community power emerges when groups act strategically and collectively (Gold & Simon, 2002). At the base of community organizing are the relationships built by the community organizer with those most affected by the issue who themselves have insufficient power to effect change. The relationship between the community organizer and those most affected by the issue, as well as among the community members most affected by the issue, can be leveraged to increase the community’s power.

Figure 1. Components of Community Organizing


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Recent Publications:

New Report from Community Science to Help City Governments Get Ready for Racial Equity Work

Community Science is proud to present one of our latest reports – lessons learned from a national initiative to help city governments get ready for racial equity work. The Racial Equity Here (REH) initiative, funded by Living Cities, engaged and supported a cohort of five U.S. cities committed to transforming policies and practices to address the inequities within their systems of government. The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) was funded by Living Cities to provide training and technical assistance to guide these cities over a two-year period as they worked toward their racial equity goals. The final report is based on the evaluation of the initiative. Community Science used the evaluation findings to report on lessons learned and offer recommendations to other cities interested in engaging in racial equity work.


The Steps-By-Step Guide to Evaluation: How to Become Savvy Evaluation Consumers (June 2018)

Community Science is proud to present The Step-By-Step Guide to Evaluation: How to Become Savvy Evaluation Consumers, which we developed for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This new guide is designed for people with little or no experience with formal evaluation to help them become more familiar with evaluation concepts and practices, partner better with independent evaluators, and use evaluation more effectively to continually learn from and improve their work.


Emerging Action Principles for Designing and Planning Community Change (March 2015)

Community Matters! Decades of scientific research have shown that being part of a supportive, inclusive and capable community promotes mental, physical, and social well-being more than any other factors known to the social and medical sciences. Our publication series, Community Matters: Action Principles, Frameworks, and Strategies, shares what science and practice have taught us about building and strengthening community. The first publication in this series, “Emerging Principles for Designing and Implementing Community Change,” has just been released.


Local Voices: On-the-Ground Perspectives on Driving Community Change in the Making Connections Sites (July 2014)

This report describes, from the perspective of local stakeholders, the experience of several sites involved in Making Connections — the Foundation’s signature community change initiative of the 2000s — in developing and enhancing the core capacities essential for articulating and pursuing a local community change agenda. The report describes the conditions in the communities when Making Connections began; the core capacities built during the decade-long initiative; the factors that contributed to capacity building; the evidence of improved outcomes for children, families and neighborhoods resulting from the enhanced change capacities; the continuing challenges of sustaining those capacities; and key takeaways from the experience.  


Addressing Health Disparities Through Organizational Change-Evaluation Report (April 2012)

In 2006, The Colorado Trust funded 14 organizations to improve their cultural competency in order to strengthen their capacity to reduce health disparities.  Community Science was engaged to evaluate the initiative, specifically assessing: 1) changes in cultural competency among grantees, 2) the influence of cultural competency changes on grantee interventions and short -term outcomes, 3) factors and conditions needed to bring about positive changes in organizational cultural competency, and 4) grantee progress and accomplishments over time.  


The Importance of Culture in Evaluation

The Importance of Culture in Evaluation, a publication funded by The Colorado Trust, provides insights to help guide the complex dynamics between evaluators, funders and stakeholders of different cultures. The report provides examples of where cross-cultural competency is critical in evaluation and recommends questions and strategies that an evaluator should consider when practicing this form of cultural competency.