You are seeing this message because your web browser does not support basic web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing and what you can do to make your experience on this site better.

The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

Terms of Use ▼

Arnold Love and Betty Muggah describe how Hamilton Community Foundation applied democratic evaluation principles to transform challenged neighborhoods into vibrant communities.

Building a healthy and vibrant community that includes all residents—whether impoverished, unemployed, struggling to adjust to a new country, or marginalized in some other way—is a daunting task and endless challenge, especially for a community foundation. Established in 1954, Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF) is one of the oldest and largest of Canada's community foundations. In recent years, HCF has been increasingly interested in strengthening neighborhoods, fostering leadership, and building capacity among local networks and grassroots organizations.

HCF's Growing Roots . . . Strengthening Neighbourhoods Program began in 2003 as a 5-year pilot project to help the residents of four challenged neighborhoods—neighborhoods with high levels of poverty, unemployment, and single-parent families and low levels of education—identify and implement projects that will improve their quality of life. The program seeks to build assets by creating opportunities for residents to gain leadership skills and increase the organizational and leadership capacities residing in the neighborhoods.¹

To assist with this process, the program employs a full-time community-development worker who outreaches and engages neighborhood residents, develops long-term relationships with neighborhood groups, and offers these groups hands-on technical assistance in planning and organizing activities. A key component of asset building is providing small grants for projects that develop a neighborhood's assets, benefit the neighborhood, and contribute to tangible improvements in the quality of life of residents. For example, small grants may be given to help residents and neighborhood groups plan a “mom and tots” play group/coffee club, start an after school program, or beautify the neighborhood.

Picture of four girls showing off a window box
Four girls show off the window box they have built.

The Growing Roots . . . Strengthening Neighbourhoods Program adopted a community development approach to evaluation. In this model, evaluation supports the democratic evaluation principles of inclusion, participation, dialogue, and action in several ways: by documenting the local issues and outcomes that are important to the residents, by creating opportunities to deliberate together and practice direct democracy, by mobilizing partnerships and networks to generate solutions, and by identifying the current assets and additional resources that will create positive outcomes for challenged neighborhoods and their residents.

As an example, the recent interim program evaluation gave both individual residents and neighborhood groups the opportunity to document what had changed in their lives and their neighborhoods as a result of participating in the program. Residents and neighborhood groups considered what assets the program was helping to build, what aspects of the program were working well, what needed to be changed, what were the major challenges still facing the four communities, and what elements of the program were transferable to other neighborhoods. Children and youth, as well as their parents and other members of the community, participated fully in the evaluation process.

The Growing Roots . . . Strengthening Neighbourhoods evaluation approach had three elements:

1. Deepen residents' understanding of the assets and strengths of their neighborhoods through a participatory assets-mapping approach. Following the assets-mapping process,² neighborhood residents and the Growing Roots . . . Strengthening Neighbourhoods program coordinator came together to discuss and identify neighborhood assets and draw them on a map. Next, community meetings served as a forum for discussing assets and revising the maps. Finally, Geographic Information System software mapped the assets digitally and integrated them with demographic data for presentation to the community.

2. Evaluate the outcomes and achievements of neighborhood residents in their own voices. Photovoice was the core evaluation technique used to evoke stories and narrative data from residents and neighborhood groups. This combination of photography and storytelling has proven to be a very effective technique for obtaining credible evaluation data, as well as a useful platform for subsequent reflection and community building. During the last decade, photovoice has been increasingly recognized as a tool to enable community residents to record, reflect, and communicate their assets and concerns and to educate community leaders about issues from a grassroots perspective.³

A senior staff member from a community agency with experience using photovoice methodology interviewed residents participating in the Growing Roots . . . Strengthening Neighbourhoods Program, including children and youth, and recorded their responses to the evaluation questions. The interviewer was accompanied by a photographer who took photos meant to capture the views expressed during the interviews and the outcomes and other achievements resulting from the program.

3. Public validation and democratic deliberation of evaluation findings. To complement the photovoice methodology, the program coordinator added findings from the assets-mapping process, statistical information about program participants and activities, and mini-evaluations done by each group at the end of its project. The program coordinator then integrated this data with the photovoice images and stories that best captured the findings.

HFRP Resources on Youth Engaged for Action

• “Youth Engaged for Action,” a new article to appear in Prevention Researcher, describes how out-of-school time (OST) programs can promote youth involvement in civic action by focusing on four interrelated programmatic strategies: establishing organizational readiness that fosters engagement, promoting youth–adult partnerships, engaging youth as leaders and decision makers, and involving youth in research and evaluation. To be notified of the release of the Prevention Researcher article, sign up for our OST updates email.

• The Issues and Opportunities in Out-of-School Time Evaluation brief, Youth Involvement in Evaluation and Research, draws on information collected from focus group interviews with representatives of 14 programs that are involving youth in their evaluation and research efforts. It examines the elements of successful youth involved research projects and offers short profiles of the 14 organizations included in the study.

• We offer a list of over three dozen community youth development and youth civic engagement resources related to engaging youth for democratic action on our website. 

The resulting presentation served as a focal point around which to convene community residents, the Neighbourhoods Program Advisory Committee, Hamilton Community Foundation staff and board members, and other members of the community as they came together to validate the findings in a public forum, hear suggestions for improvement, and discuss the lessons learned from the program and how it might be transferred to other Hamilton neighborhoods. Participants also received a brochure summarizing the findings and a copy of the Neighbourhood Newsletter that presented photos and evaluation stories from each neighborhood.

This democratic approach to program evaluation has significant advantages. First of all, the evaluation process is grounded in the experiences and viewpoints of neighborhood residents and neighborhood groups. As a result, they have a strong voice in telling their stories about the program, talking about the difference it has made in their lives, and coming together to publicly validate the findings. Secondly, residents' and community groups' participation in this democratic process results in evaluation feedback that strengthens HCF's program-planning and grant-making activities. Finally, at a strategic level, evaluation informs HCF's policies and strategies for strengthening Hamilton's neighborhoods, builds its knowledge about supporting community-based development, and provides valuable feedback about ways it can assume a leadership role in building the assets for and generating solutions to the core issues facing Hamilton's most challenged neighborhoods.

¹ Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1997). Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community's assets. Skokie, IL: ACTA Publications.
² Green, G. P., & Haines, A. (2001). Asset building and community development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
³ Wang, C., Yuan, Y. L., & Feng, M. L. (1996). Photovoice as a tool for participatory evaluation: The community's view of process and impact. Journal of Contemporary Health, 4, 47–49.

Arnold Love, Ph.D.
Program Evaluation Consultant
40 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 309
Toronto, ON M4T 1M9
Tel: 416-921-2109

Betty Muggah
Vice President
Grants & Community Initiatives
Hamilton Community Foundation
120 King Street West, Suite 700
Hamilton, ON L8P 4V2
Tel: 905-523-5600 ext. 42

‹ Previous Article | Table of Contents | Next Article ›

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project