By Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, Concordia University
The Calgary Sexual Health Centre (CSHC) works in Alberta to normalize sexual health with a focus on healthy bodies, healthy relationships and healthy communities. Initially, the developmental evaluation (DE) project was based on the desire to enhance CSHC’s current work to reach newcomer populations. Often the topic of sexual health is not included in programs or services targeted to newcomers, thus leaving these members at risk. To this end, CSHC had initiated FAIR (Families Achieving Inclusive Relationships) – a one year project involving the hiring of staff from an ethno-cultural community where participants would enrol in the sexual health-training program and then become advocates and facilitators of sexual health in their own communities and organizations.
CSHC chose to work with DE because the knowledge and skills gained would enhance their internal capacity to serve these communities. There was also a commitment to transferring this learning to other sexual health providers and immigrant serving organizations.
“What was so important for Developmental Evaluation (DE) is that we were open to learn and change. We actually threw everything on the table and worked through our work with cultural communities. We may have gone through a whole different path if we had not looked at it as DE.”
– Calgary Sexual Health Centre
Relevance and niche position for DE
Initially, DE was intended to focus on supporting the trial-and-error involved in implementing the FAIR project. The role of DE evolved, however, as the nature of the initiative changed.
Through their work, CSHC realized that FAIR would not effectively help address the sexual health needs of ethno-cultural communities on its own. This redefined the way that CSHC works.
The DE process also evolved as a result, and became focused on how CSHC could adapt to a new understanding of the context and way of responding to the sexual health needs of ethno-cultural communities as a means to create more impactful interventions across all of the centre’s work. The DE process was carried out over a 14 month period with the coaching of Debb Hurlock and Melissa Innes.
Strong and focused DE questions are key to successful developmental evaluation work. As CSHC’s work evolved, their DE questions shifted as well. As they settled on their new impact objective – adapting their work to respond to the sexual health needs of ethno-cultural communities – their DE questions became:
- What are the strategies of FAIR: Is it to develop partnerships with ethno-cultural serving networks and agencies and CSHC then facilitate the content through partnerships? Or, does CSHC build its internal capacity to be able to do the work, in some cases without a partnership? Or, both?
- What other resources and capacities do we need to implement the strategies? What things do we need to consider in selecting specific strategies/forming specific partnerships (existing relationship, solid opportunity, possibility to leverage, sufficient capacity at CSHC to deliver etc.)
Methods and interventions
With the support of DE coaches, CSHC employed numerous methods throughout their process, including a visually represented Theory of Change, posing critical questions about their Theory of Change, reflective mapping, insights, values definition and a formal evaluation framework. In addition to supportive coaching and variety of DE tools, two key factors also helped position CSHC for success:
- Being open to learn, change and adaptation. CSHC started with a particular idea of their work, but when it became clear that they had to shift gears to achieve the impact required, they had the ability to do so.
- Support from the leadership. The leadership was supportive and enthused about DE. They allowed for the space for critical conversations and acted upon the decisions that emerged from these.
This work helped them to find success and orient their programs to be more impactful for the people they wish to serve. The result was not what they had first planned, but that is nature of DE – it explores the emergent and helps you make improvements in real time.
“Having the right people, the right circumstances to really examine from every perspective to determine whether you are looking at the right thing or not. Also a DE that was ready to challenge us.”
– Calgary Sexual Health Centre
The main impact of DE was in supporting the shift away from FAIR as a project and moving to a focus on the engagement with diverse communities as an integrated part of CSHC’s overall work. This changed the way which CSHC pursues impact, with improvements put in place to better serve their target community. A few takeaways from the process for CSHC also included:
- Revisiting their approach to working with newcomers.
- Development of an organizational Theory of Change with an evaluation framework.
- Increased partnerships and opportunities to work with ethno-cultural communities.
- Establishment of a basis for formative evaluation.
Overall, thanks to working with a DE coach, the organization is now better positioned to pursue its intended impact, and has the tools to learn and adapt along the way.
To learn more about DE support available through Innoweave, click here.