Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Making A Difference In Your Neighborhood: Developing an Action Plan

In November 2011, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) released a new tool for communities: “Making a Difference In Your Neighborhood: A Handbook for Using Community Decision-Making to Improve the Lives of Children, Youth and Families.” Based on CSSP’s work in communities throughout the past two decades, this handbook provides communities with the “how to” guidance that is needed to begin community change efforts. In the next few months, we will provide a brief overview of each of the handbook’s chapters and highlight the information that we believe is critical to building communities that improve outcomes for children and families. 

This week, we spotlight Chapter 4: Developing Your Action Plan 

Using data to understand the current conditions that communities face, stakeholders and partners can identify the results that are needed to improve outcomes for children and families.  Furthermore, this data is crucial to the development of an action plan that implements the strategies, interventions, opportunities and supports that are needed to achieve these results in the community. Bringing together residents, community partners and other stakeholders to the table to analyze data and develop an action plan is a critical step in the community change process as it ensures that the various perspectives and experiences of those within the community are valued and used to develop strategies that address the specific needs of the community.

Action plans will look different in each community, even when two communities may be trying to reach the same set of results. For example, the strategies that may help reduce school dropout rates in a rural community may be entirely different than the strategies used to reduce dropout rates in a large, urban area. It is also important to note that the most effective action plans contain more than programs or services that provide support to residents. Instead, the action plan will likely contain a set of strategies that may change the structure or daily operations of an organization. For example, a school trying to reduce dropout rates may develop a new strategy that targets parental involvement rather than developing a program for students at-risk of dropping out of school.

Using data and insight from your community partnerships may help identify the services, programs and strategies that already exist in the community, as well as the gaps that need to be filled to achieve your community’s desired results. Research will play a crucial role in developing and implementing the strategies that will meet the needs of the community and its residents. For example, researching programs and strategies that have been effective in other communities, as well as researching the strategies that have been ineffective in your own community, may help identify the strategies that will have the greatest impact on residents.

In recent years, increasing attention to “evidence-based practice” has encouraged communities to select programs, strategies and interventions that have demonstrated strong empirical evidence through randomized control studies. While choosing programs and strategies that have a strong evidence base is important and may ultimately help your community achieve results, it is critical to keep in mind that a comprehensive and effective action plan will contain strategies that reflect the unique needs of your community. Factors such as the geography of the community, the demographics of local residents and the history of the community, for example, will influence a program or intervention’s ability to meet the needs of residents. Collecting and analyzing data throughout the implementation of your action plan will track the progress of your interventions and strategies and inform any changes that should be made to improve outcomes for children, families and all residents.

For more information about developing an action plan, as well as a list of tools that can help your community identify promising practices, please click here.

"Expanding the Evidence Universe: Doing Better by Knowing More" (Center for the Study of Social Policy) provides further insight into evidence-based practice and its application to effective programs, policies and strategies that improve the well-being of children and families.

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