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In their unique role as Community Wellness Hubs, park and recreation agencies connect every community member to essential programs, services and spaces that advance health equity, improve health outcomes and enhance quality of life. As such, health and wellness programming can be designed to target any combination of the social determinants of health — all of which have a direct impact on people’s health, well-being and quality of life.
Health and wellness programming for parks and recreation can cover a range of topics, including nutrition, physical activity, mental health and many others. As trusted gathering places, park and recreation agencies are uniquely able to reach a wide audience through programming, services, education and other health promotion activities because of their close community connection.
Measuring the impact of these programs takes many forms and can be challenging to design, especially for those new to program evaluation. Program evaluation provides managers, staff and the community an opportunity to better understand current programs, to examine how well they are functioning and to identify opportunities for improvement. Evaluation is an ongoing practice because of multiple factors that interplay in a health program. Thus, collecting information and gaining perspective through evaluation is essential to improving program processes and outcomes from their development through completion.
During July 2022, NRPA released a framework to help park and recreation professionals measure and evaluate health and wellness programs. Developed in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago, a non-partisan research institution, with funding from the Walmart Foundation, NRPA’s Health Impact Evaluation Framework: Measuring the Process and Outcomes of Health and Wellness Programs, is a comprehensive guide that connects agencies to existing evaluation tools, data sources and resources. The framework will help agencies better evaluate the impacts of park and recreation health interventions and communicate them more effectively to local elected officials, members of the public and philanthropic supporters.
Key Sections of the Framework
The framework includes five sections designed to guide readers throughout the evaluation life cycle, including:
- Importance of Evaluating Health and Wellness Programs – Definitions of health and wellness and program evaluation
- Program Design – Useful tools to organize programs and prepare for successful evaluation
- Designing an Evaluation Plan – The evaluation approach, evaluation questions and determining evaluation capacity
- Collecting/Analyzing Data – Data needs, collection, analysis and interpretation
- Using Evaluation for Improvement and Advocacy – Translating findings into action
Case studies, worksheets, and links to resources and data sources provide additional guidance on implementing a holistic evaluation process within park and recreation agencies.
NRPA’s Health Impact Evaluation Framework: Measuring the Process and Outcomes of Health and Wellness Programs will help park and recreation professionals navigate the entire evaluation life cycle for health and wellness programs, from program design through sharing results with stakeholders. Professionals can use the tools and resources provided in the framework verbatim or modify them to meet their needs. Evaluation can help park and recreation professionals identify, strengthen and promote the ways in which their agency contributes to improving the overall health and wellness of communities. With guidance from the Health Impact Evaluation Framework: Measuring the Process and Outcomes of Health and Wellness Programs, park and recreation professionals are one step closer to harnessing the power of program evaluation.
Inquiries about the Health Impact Evaluation Framework should be addressed to NRPA’s Evaluation team.
Dianne Palladino is Director of Evaluation at NRPA. Austin Barrett is Evaluation Manager at NRPA. Allison Colman is Director of Health at NRPA.