In a previous post, “Don’t Let Grant Writing Ruin Program Planning,” I talked about the importance of conducting a community needs assessment before implementing a program or intervention. I stand by my words. However, as I have grown and gained more insight, I learned to not only assess the needs of the community I intend to serve, but to also consider the opportunities, improvements, strengths and expectations of that community. This is the context of NOISE, a framework based on the traditional SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) matrix.
In addition to health programs and interventions, a community needs and strengths assessment can be applied to any socially conscious initiative. While working in academia, I mastered the technique of employing both community-engaged and community-based participatory approaches. While both involve conducting work in a community setting, the key differences are that a community-based participatory approach involves shared planning, decision-making and implementation with key community members and other stakeholders, compared to traditional community-engaged approaches which lack shared planning, decision-making and implementation. With that said, as a result of applying the key principles of participatory engagement, you have an increased chance of community buy-in that will result in trusting and sustainable relationships.
In theory, working directly with community members and other stakeholders such as local non-profit organizations to effectively implement a community needs and strengths assessment is a simple process. After all, everything is written and all we must do is read a few publications, develop a plan and apply what is written, right? No. It is not that simple. If you want measurable and successful outcomes, it is imperative that you recruit and/or train people who have the necessary traits and ability to build trust with, engage and influence communities to be involved in the assessment process.
An effective community engagement leader has the support of his/her organization and access to resources. Organizational commitment is key. If your organization is not willing to invest its time and resources into developing a trusting and sustainable relationship with the community it intends to serve, your efforts are in vain.
Finally, I have a few more questions before I close. Is your organization really motivated to affect change? Seriously, let us think about it. Your vision is a prosperous life for all. Your mission is to eliminate health disparities. You have a great looking logic model detailing your inputs, outputs and expected outcomes but what about your strategy and partnerships? Who have you employed to carry-out the work of your organization? Are your staff collaborative or have they boxed your organization into a corner all by itself?
I am asking because on occasion, I am approached with a community engagement problem and after I propose a solution, I am sometimes told, “ABC organization is already doing that,” “we have tried that,” or “we cannot do that.” So, if every organization in your great city is implementing community programs and interventions, why is there not a greater impact on health outcomes, employment, education, safety, access and life expectancy in that great city? If every organization is already doing XYZ or if you are not able to do 123, then what exactly does your organization do again and how do you measure that?