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Learning Communities

In an effort to help our participating houses of worship get a sense of their congregation’s fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity practices, I implemented a baseline assessment.  This assessment had two goals.  The first was to actually get some data; the other was to create an opportunity for Ambassadors to engage with their congregation, as some of our Ambassadors are engaging with their congregations in this manner for the very first time.  Ever.

To achieve this, we created an easy to complete assessment card.  Questions were extracted from the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) to measure produce consumption and exercise frequency.  These questions were combined with standard demographic questions (age, race, gender, etc.) and printed on individually numbered, heavy stock, and cut to pocket size cards.

Each house of worship was given between 25 and 100 cards (based on the congregation size they provided in their application) and TWO MONTHS to have them completed.  During Orientation in February, attendees were walked through how to complete the forms and we shared ideas for potential events and opportunities to collect the data.  Understanding that people like to receive something in exchange for their time, each Ambassador was given pens as giveaways.  Again, this strategy had two goals: one to have a giveaway, but the other was to ensure that participants were guaranteed to have a writing implement to complete the survey!

To help get timely submissions, engraved stainless steel pens were given to the Ambassadors who were the first to return their completed cards.  Emails were sent to the entire group every 7-10 days, giving public thanks (by name) to all the houses of worship that had returned their cards.  Finally, two days before the April deadline, calls were placed to all the outstanding Ambassadors to remind them that the deadline was approaching.

This strategy seemed to have worked, as we had 100% return from all 19 of our houses of worship, and within each house of worship, they have returned more than 98% of their assessment cards.  In fact, some houses of worship asked for more cards because congregation members were upset that they ran out!  At our next educational session in May 2012, attendees will receive a brief summary of results, as well as an individualized report that they can share with their congregation leadership, health ministry team, etc. 

So what did we learn about implementing data collection strategies in the community?  First, data collection strategies must be implemented from the very start of the program.  We reviewed their success getting the assessment data collected at our first educational session.  When I introduced the need for a monthly program report, the group was in total agreement that having this data collected on a regular basis just made sense.  Second, community members must be encouraged, empowered, and reminded (more than once) along the way.  And for those who are apprehensive about doing data collection, a hands on approach will be necessary.  In my case, it included traveling to a church, attending their worship service, and creating an on-site event to help them implement the survey following that service.  Third, competition works – regardless of the audience!  After the first email thanking those who had submitted landed in cyberspace, I received a flurry of new submissions, phone calls, and emails from others who did not want to miss the free gift.  And finally, people have to feel that they are going to receive something in exchange for their effort, whether it is a plastic pen, a more expensive token, or just the report of analyzed data.