Multiple methods of assessment are required to understand the community context. Healthy community approaches are more challenging than health programs. They require an understanding of the target population and its needs, habits and preferences; specific environmental conditions; the community context; the existing policy status and political context; and the dynamics of the partnership itself. Partnerships that don’t learn about these things on the front end often find themselves challenged and needing to learn about them later. Successful partnerships employ a range of assessment techniques (e.g., analysis of pre-existing health and community data, surveys, focus groups, key informant interviews, environmental audits, policy audits, Photovoice and partnership evaluations) in order to understand the challenges and opportunities they have before making important decisions about their direction.
Good assessment builds capacity and is worth the time. Thoughtful assessment does more than collect information for analysis and decision making. It involves partners, identifies gaps in the partnership and provides opportunities to recruit new partners. It builds the skills, knowledge and confidence of emerging leaders. It forges relationships and builds networks for advocacy and implementation. It establishes a culture of preparation and accountability. It opens avenues for dialogue and stimulates interest in the community, builds credibility with funders and political supporters, and unearths challenges and assets within the partnership. It also conserves resources by informing decisions and reducing risk. These benefits increase the partnership’s and community’s capacity to succeed. While partners and funders are sometimes anxious to move past assessment and planning to action, those who are able to invest time and money in thoughtful assessment often find that it pays long-term dividends.
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