The City of Prince George instituted a number of health and safety initiatives and needed a way to evaluate the systemic outcomes of their efforts over time. They enlisted Coeuraj to develop a robust evaluation framework that would incorporate voices from across the community.
Community-led Evaluation for Municipal Health and Safety Initiatives
Known as a ‘Gateway to the North,’ the City of Prince George is a central hub in a northern region of British Columbia. Like many urban centres, the City addresses the impacts of unsheltered homelessness within its downtown core, including those related to cleanliness, safety, and inclusion. Over time, the City has implemented several health and safety interventions with the goal to improve community safety and well-being. The interventions included programs such as expanding access to homeless service hubs, enhancing cleaning efforts in the downtown core, and increasing bylaw enforcement presence.
The City needed a way to evaluate the interventions and understand the long-term, systemic outcomes of their health and safety efforts. This was a complex need without a single solution. To address both the technical and social aspects of this problem, Coeuraj worked with the City to build a substantive framework for continuous community-led evaluation. The framework would account for the perspectives and experiences of diverse community members, the results of each program, and the overall progress of the City’s efforts over time.
Over the course of one year, Coeuraj led research activities that painted a picture of the top health and safety issues from a community lens. The research set the stage for a series of large workshops with municipal and provincial agencies, NGOs, local businesses, community representatives, the neighbouring First Nation and urban Indigenous service providers, as well as those with lived experience of homelessness and substance use disorder.
The workshops progressed from identifying problems to creating a vision of health and safety in Prince George and selecting five priority areas for evaluation. Coeuraj used the large volume of work generated by participants during these workshops to develop a ‘Theory of Change’ for the City’s new vision in which “Everyone is seen as a member of the community, deserving of social connection and support, where everyone feels safety, purpose, and a sense of belonging.”
The Theory of Change became the central pillar of the evaluation framework. It described a preferred course of action and presented assumptions about the changes expected with each step.
To test the framework, Coeuraj led an evaluation sprint. We trained a local evaluation team to collect and sort data and facilitated a community workshop where participants could interpret the evaluation findings and draw strategic learnings. This sprint made sure the framework was practical and set a strong baseline for future evaluations. The key findings were gathered in a comprehensive evaluation report.
It was important that the framework be a tool to increase both the municipality and the community’s ability to assess health and safety issues in the city. To support continuous community involvement in the assessment process, Coeuraj wrote a detailed guidebook to serve as the blueprint for how to successfully conduct evaluations in the future.
Our approach facilitated collaboration across sectors and community members. By involving people with diverse viewpoints, we were able to design the evaluation framework around the real constraints and practical goals of the community, and stakeholders were able to see themselves reflected in the City’s efforts to improve the safety and wellbeing of its members.
At times daunting, it was acknowledged that the robustness of our approach elevated the project from a checkbox exercise to one that laid the foundation for sustainable and measured improvements to the City’s health and safety initiatives and their awareness of the long-term, systemic outcomes. The City was able to produce the evaluation framework they initially set out to build and established meaningful relationships that set a new benchmark for community involvement in decision-making.
Coeuraj was thrilled, and humbled, to be a part of this important work.