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Evaluating community engagement

University Neighborhood Partners’ innovative approach to capturing the impact of its work.
A group of three young adults canoe together down a calm river. Text over the photo reads, "University Neighborhood Parnters Network Evaluation 2020-2021, Prepared by University Neighborhood Partners with support from the Utah Education Policy Center."

Click to download the UNP Network Evaluation.

Much like friendships, community partnerships are difficult to measure. How do you put numbers on meaningful relationships with people and organizations? This has long been a unique challenge for the University of Utah’s University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) which brings together university and west side people and resources in reciprocal learning, action and benefit.

“We’ve been working very hard to redesign our evaluation process to capture the impact of our work more holistically and authentically,” said Paul Kuttner, associate director of UNP. “We haven’t fully figured it out, but our evaluation team has made some great innovations in transforming the traditional logic model into something more fitting to the work of UNP.”

The recently released UNP Partners Network Evaluation captures UNP’s new approach—combining traditional participation outcomes with a partners survey, social network analysis and storytelling. For example, survey responses revealed 87% of partners felt more hopeful that it is possible to change things for the better through their participation in UNP-supported partnerships.

“How we gathered our data was unique,” said Lenn Rodriguez, site coordinator for the UNP Hartland Partnership Center. “It was a very collaborative process, especially because we weren’t only collecting data on the work UNP did, we were asking people to tell us what they’ve been doing. It’s an evaluation not just of UNP’s work but what our entire network is accomplishing.”

One way of viewing this work is through UNP’s network map—a visual representation of the various partner organizations, institutions and university units UNP is connected to.

“Our approach will help us make data shareable with our partners because we’re collecting it, analyzing it and sharing it with our partners so it’s useful not only for the university but also for the community,” said Saolo Betham, community leadership partnership manager for UNP.

In future UNP Partners Network Evaluations, the team hopes to implement more innovative ideas such as running a data lab which brings UNP partners together to share and analyze data so there are more perspectives on what data means and can include.

“This report is not about the numbers,” said Rodriguez. “It’s about how we tried to be inclusive in all parts of the process and maybe it can be a model for other organizations to use in doing community evaluations.”