Catalyst - Fall 2020 Vol 3 No 1 - Page 6

Evaluation In the Time of COVID-19 by April Hermstad and Michelle Kegler of the Emory Prevention Research Center O ur team at the Emory Prevention Research Center currently serves as the evaluator for The Two Georgias Initiative, Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s place-based rural health equity initiative. We support the 11 coalitions’ local evaluation work and are conducting an evaluation that looks across the coalitions to measure the initiative’s overall impact. In March 2020, as the nation shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we began hearing stories from the coalitions about how their work was being impacted. Coalition meetings were moved from in-person gatherings to online. Events and activities were canceled. Priorities shifted to focus on meeting residents’ most urgent needs. It was clear that community health programs and coalition work would be dramatically affected for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has been devastating to public health, our economy, and our way of life, but it also presents opportunities. Prior to the pandemic, we had planned a special evaluation study, but had not yet settled on a topic. Once the scale of the pandemic became known, we decided to focus our special evaluation on the coalitions’ ability to respond to COVID-19. Doing so is consistent with our evaluation plan and allows our work to remain relevant. Our central question asks, “In what ways did strengthened community capacity from The Two Georgias Initiative facilitate community response to COVID-19, if at all?” We think that the coalitions are better positioned to respond to the needs created by the pandemic because of their work and the relationships they have built over several years as a part of The Two Georgias Initiative. Because this is a health equity initiative, we also want to know if some groups are disproportionately affected and how the coalitions work to minimize disparities created or exacerbated by this crisis. Our evaluation work has been impacted in other ways as well. We have worked with community partners to ensure that they are able to document all of the activities and other aspects of their work that have been delayed or canceled because of the pandemic. We have postponed all of our planned in-person data collection and visits to our partners until their activities resume and it is safe to return. We are taking advantage of this time to get caught up organizing and analyzing the data we do have and making the most of those findings. Because many of our community partners are located in rural areas throughout Georgia, we are accustomed to using technology to communicate with them from a distance. We continue to email, talk on the phone, hold webinars, and use screen-sharing services. The newest tool in our distance-based communication repertoire is the frequent use of Zoom meetings (with the video on!) that allow us to connect in a meaningful way. We know that our community partners are doing their best to implement pieces of their programs and support residents’ needs in spite of the challenges brought upon by COVID-19. That’s who they are. It’s what they do. More than three months in, with social and physical distancing a part of our new normal, we will do our best to support them so they can have the best outcomes possible when we eventually reach the other side of this pandemic. 6