Last week, I threw my first data party. I served descriptive statistics and graphs; my co-hosts brought chocolate.
I first learned about data parties from evaluation consultant Kylie Hutchinson’s presentation It’s A Data Party that she gave at the 2016 American Evaluation Association Conference. Also known as data briefings or sense-making sessions, data parties actively engage stakeholders with evaluation findings.
My guests were librarians from a cohort of public libraries that participated in the Engage for Health project, a statewide collaboration led by the NN/LM Middle Atlantic Region (MAR) and the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA). The NN/LM MAR is one of PaLA’s partners in a statewide literacy initiative called PA Forward, an initiative to engage libraries in activities that address five types of literacy. The project team was composed of Lydia Collins of NN/LM MAR (which also funded the project), Kathy Silks of the PaLA, and Susan Jeffery of the North Pocono Public Library. I joined the team to help them evaluate the project and develop reports to bring visibility to the initiative. Specifically, my charge was to use this project to provide experiential evaluation training to the participating librarians.
Librarians from our 18 cohort libraries participated in all phases of the planning and evaluation process. Kathy and Susan managed our participant recruitment and communication. Lydia provided training on how to promote and deliver the program, as well as assistance with finding health care partners to team-teach with the librarians. I involved the librarians in every phase of the program planning and evaluation process. We met to create the project logic model, develop the evaluation forms, and establish a standard process for printing, distributing, and returning the forms to the project team. In the end, librarians delivered completed evaluation forms from 77% of their adult participants from Engage for Health training sessions.
What We Evaluated
The objective of PA Forward includes improving health literacy, so the group’s outcomes for Engage for Health was to empower people to better manage their health. Specifically, we wanted them to learn strategies that would lead to more effective conversations with their health care providers. Librarians and their health care partners emphasized strategies such as researching health issues using quality online health resources, making a list of medications, and writing down questions to discuss at their appointments. We also wanted them to know how to use two trustworthy online health information sources from the National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus and NIHSeniorHealth.
Sharing with Appreciative Inquiry. The data party kicked off with Appreciative Inquiry interviews. Participants interviewed each other, sharing their peak experiences and what they valued about those experiences. Everyone then shared their peak experiences in a large group. (See our blog entries here and here for detailed examples of using Appreciative Inquiry.)
Data sense-making: Participants then worked with a fact sheet with graphs and summary statistics compiled from the session evaluation data. As a group, we reviewed our logic model and discussed whether our data showed that we achieved our anticipated outcomes. The group also drew on both the fact sheet and the stories from the Appreciative Inquiry interviews to identify unanticipated outcomes. Finally they identified metrics they wish we had collected. What was missing?
Consulting Circles: After a morning of sharing successes, the group got together to help each other with challenges. We had three challenge areas that the group wanted to address: integration of technology into the classes; finding partners from local health organizations; and promotional strategies. No area was a problem for all librarians: some were quite successful in a given areas, while others struggled. The consulting groups were a chance to brainstorm effective practices in each area.
Next steps: As with most funded projects, both host organizations hoped that the libraries would continue providing health literacy activities beyond the funding period. To get the group thinking about program continuity, we ran a 1-2-4-All discussion about next steps. They first identified the next steps they will take at their libraries, then provided suggestions to NN/LM MAR and PALA on how to support their continued efforts.
Post Party Activities
For each of the four party activities, a recorder from each group took discussion notes on a worksheet developed for the activity, then turned it into the project team. We will incorporate their group feedback into written reports that are currently in process.
If you are curious about our findings, I will say generally that our data supports the success of this project. We have plans to publish our findings in a number of venues, once we have a chance to synthesize everything. So watch this blog space and I’ll let you know when a report of our findings becomes available.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in reading more about data parties, check out this article in the Journal of Extension.