July 9, 2019

On the Path to Health Equity: Building Capacity to Measure Health Outcomes in Community Development 

Group of young children sitting in front of a playground

Addressing persistent health disparities will require intentional partnerships between the community development field and the health care sector. On the Path to Health Equity: Building Capacity to Measure Health Outcomes in Community Development describes the journey taken by 20 community-based organizations to acquire the language, evaluation tools and evidence to articulate the connection between their work and individual health outcomes. This report serves as a call to action for these two sectors to join forces in finding scalable solutions to the complex community challenges that are the root causes of many of the health disparities we see today.  

In 2016 Enterprise Community Partners and Success Measures® at NeighborWorks® America launched the Health Outcomes Demonstration Project, a national initiative that equipped the participating community-based organizations to evaluate the impact of their programs on the health outcomes of the people they serve. This ground-breaking effort addressed many of the challenges in demonstrating the effectiveness of programs that address the social determinants of health. 

Key among these challenges was the lack of standard measurement practices which has hindered the ability of the community development sector to make its case in a way that resonates with health care providers and payers who strictly adhere to evidence-based practices.

As noted by Maggie Grieve, vice president of Success Measures at NeighborWorks America, “Until recently, affordable housing developers and community-based organizations have not had the measurement tools to track and assess health outcomes – revealing a significant gap in their ability to better understand their contributions to healthy communities and to obtain the evidence needed to effectively improve, tailor and target programs and interventions.”  

The project deployed an innovative set of 65 health outcome measurement tools developed by Success Measures on topics ranging from attitudes about health to the accessibility of health care and community resources. The tools include multiple survey questions, interview guides and other resources that can be used to gather data from clients, residents or community members.  

In addition to the tools, each organization received technical assistance, financial support and peer-learning opportunities to support their evaluation of a range of community-based programs, from supportive housing for the formerly homeless to financial capability services.  

The project was designed along a continuum of learning, expanding the capacity of participants to evaluate and articulate their role in improving health outcomes. These evaluations led to a deeper understanding of client needs, which resulted in identifying significant improvements to existing strategies. By the end of the project, participants had acquired the experience and expertise necessary to engage in the catalytic cross-sector partnerships necessary to “move the needle” on health disparities.  

“The success of the Health Outcomes Demonstration Project highlights the vital role of community development in addressing health disparities. Achieving health equity depends on addressing the root causes of poor health, which often occur at the community level. The findings of this report should energize both the community development and health sectors to align their efforts. Only through this alignment can we hope to achieve equitable health outcomes for all,” said Stephany De Scisciolo, vice president of Knowledge, Impact and Strategy at Enterprise Community Partners.  

Read the Report

The Health Outcomes Demonstration Project was jointly implemented by Enterprise Community Partners and Success Measures® at NeighborWorks® America and supported by: the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The Hearst Foundation, NeighborWorks America, Enterprise Community Partners, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In-kind support was provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  

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