Matada Research

Community programs and impact: Why partnerships and empowerment are the key to success

Community programs and impact: Why partnerships and empowerment are the key to success

5 minutes to read

Community programs are essential for improving the lives of individuals and communities. These programs range from social services to education and health care. Although community programs are necessary, achieving impact is not always easy. In this article, we explore why impact is hard to achieve with community programs, the importance of measuring outcomes and impacts in community programs, reasons why impact is difficult to achieve, and potential solutions for achieving impact.

What are outcomes and impact in community programs?

Outcomes are the immediate or short-term results that a community program is intended to achieve. These results are typically measurable and may include improvements in knowledge, behaviour, or skills. Outcomes may also include changes in attitudes or perceptions. For example, a community program that teaches healthy eating habits may have an outcome of increased knowledge about healthy food choices.

Impact, on the other hand, refers to the long-term effects of a community program. Impact may include changes in behaviour, policy, or social norms. Impact may also result in improvements in health, economic stability, or quality of life. For example, a community program that promotes physical activity may have an impact on reducing rates of obesity and related health problems.

Why measuring outcomes and impacts are important in community programs?

Measuring outcomes is a crucial aspect of community programs as it enables program managers to evaluate their interventions’ effectiveness and make informed decisions to enhance program performance. Outcome measurement assists in determining the changes that have resulted from the program and whether they are positive or negative. It also helps identify the factors that contributed to the outcomes. Additionally, measuring outcomes holds program managers accountable to stakeholders such as funders, participants, and community members by demonstrating the program’s impact on the community. Ultimately, outcome measurement guarantees that community programs are fulfilling their intended objectives and positively impacting people’s lives. For instance, in the case of a program aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy rates, an outcome measure could be the percentage of teenagers who have received comprehensive sex education after participating in the program.

In contrast, measuring long-term impact is equally vital in community programs as it provides significant insights into the program’s effectiveness and sustainability. It enables organisations to understand whether the program is achieving its intended goals and making a lasting difference in the community. Long-term impact measurements help identify areas of improvement and optimise the program for greater success in the future. Furthermore, it provides accountability to funders and stakeholders by demonstrating the program’s value and impact over time. By measuring long-term impact, community programs can ensure they are making a meaningful and lasting difference in the lives of those they serve. For example, in the same program aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy rates, an impact measure could be the reduction in teenage pregnancy rates in the community after the program has been implemented. 

Why impact is more important than outcome

While both outcome and impact are both important, impact is more significant than outcome because it reflects the long-term changes that can improve people’s lives.

One of the main reasons why impact is more important than outcome is that it represents a more comprehensive and meaningful way of measuring success. While outcomes may be tangible and measurable, they can be short-lived and may not accurately reflect the broader changes that have occurred. For example, a charity may distribute food to a group of people, which is an immediate outcome, but the long-term impact of the food distribution may be to improve the health and wellbeing of the recipients, which is a more significant change.

Another reason why impact is more important than outcome is that it reflects the sustainability of the project or action. An outcome may be achieved quickly and easily, but it may not be sustainable in the long run. On the other hand, impact reflects the long-term changes that can improve people’s lives and make a lasting difference. For example, a project that teaches people how to grow their own food may have a more significant impact than a project that provides food for a short period because it empowers people to become self-sufficient and improve their own lives in the long term.

Finally, impact is more important than outcome because it focuses on the ultimate goal of any project or action, which is to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Outcomes may be important in terms of meeting specific targets or objectives, but they are not the end goal. The ultimate goal is to improve people’s lives, and impact reflects this goal more accurately. For example, a project that provides access to clean water may have a more significant impact than a project that only provides water filters because it addresses the root cause of the problem and improves people’s overall health and wellbeing.

Four reasons why impact is hard to achieve for community programs:

1. Limited funding and resources

Community programs are often underfunded and understaffed. Limited resources make it challenging to develop and implement effective programs that can achieve the desired impact. For example, a community program that aims to reduce childhood obesity may require a significant investment in resources, such as equipment and staff. Without sufficient funding and resources, the program may not be able to achieve its intended impact.

2. Complex social issues

Community programs are often designed to address complex social issues that cannot be solved through a single program or intervention. For example, a program that aims to reduce poverty may need to address issues such as education, employment, and housing. Complex social issues require comprehensive and coordinated approaches that involve multiple stakeholders and sectors.

3. Limited community engagement

Community programs are most effective when they are developed and implemented in collaboration with the community. However, community engagement can be challenging to achieve, especially if community members are not actively involved in program planning and implementation. Without community engagement, programs may not be responsive to the needs and priorities of the community, making it difficult to achieve impact.

4. Short program durations

Community programs are often designed to operate over a relatively short period. However, achieving impact may require sustained effort over a more extended period. Short program durations can make it challenging to achieve long-term impact, especially if the program’s objectives are ambitious.

Three solutions to achieve impact in community programs

1. Partnership and collaboration

Effective community programs require collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, community-based organizations, and private sector partners. Partnerships can bring together diverse perspectives, resources, and expertise, making it easier to develop and implement effective programs. For example, a program that aims to reduce poverty may require partnerships between government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private sector employers to address issues such as education, employment, and housing.

2. Community engagement and empowerment

Effective community programs require active community engagement and empowerment. Community members should be involved in program planning implementation, and evaluation to ensure that the program addresses the community’s needs and priorities. Community engagement can involve community members in decision-making processes, and community empowerment can give them the resources and tools to take action to improve their own lives.

3. Long-term planning and sustainability

Effective community programs require long-term planning and sustainability. Long-term planning involves setting realistic goals and developing a strategy to achieve them over a more extended period. Sustainability involves ensuring that the program’s impact can be maintained over time, even after the program has ended. This can be achieved by building partnerships, engaging the community, and securing funding from multiple sources.

Conclusion

In conclusion, community programs are vital for improving the lives of individuals and communities. However, achieving impact is not always easy, and it requires measuring outcomes and impacts. Measuring outcomes enables program managers to evaluate their effectiveness and make informed decisions to enhance performance, while measuring impact helps organizations understand whether the program is achieving its intended goals and making a lasting difference in the community. Although both outcome and impact are important, impact is more significant because it reflects the long-term changes that can improve people’s lives. Unfortunately, achieving impact is hard for community programs due to limited funding and resources, complex social issues, limited community engagement, and short program durations. However, potential solutions, such as collaboration, sustained effort, and continuous evaluation, can help organisations achieve their intended impact and make a meaningful and lasting difference in the lives of those they serve.

Checkout our Pinterest for the infographic

Matada is a social enterprise that specializes in transformative research, evaluation, consultation, knowledge dissemination and program development to improve the health and wellbeing of communities in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our mission is to create solutions that enhance the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and society. We are backed by highly qualified and experienced researchers with both international and domestic experience. We lead with core values (relationships, respect, reciprocity, community and service) that shape our goals and vision which helps us create positive change.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By: Gerald Naepi

geraldnaepi@matadaresearch.co.nz