Jan 13, 2017

Three ways to enhance a wellness program evaluation

Time to determine the 'should-haves' versus 'must-dos' for 2017

By Marion Reeves

With the yearly collection of 2016 wellness program statistics well underway or nearing completion in the form of a year-end report for the boss, this is a good time to review your evaluation strategy and reflect on the “should-haves” versus the must-dos” for 2017. If you have precious little time to spend on evaluation planning, here are three ideas for a more robust accounting of your wellness program impact.

For starters, when wellness programs are under development, it is common to spend time thinking about the needs of a variety of stakeholders from participants to management. If a needs assessment has been done, we can turn to it for guidance. However, such data is not always current or available, so an alternative is to assess any written plans you may have made. Ideally, if you use a planning tool such as the logic model, it can be a great source of information that can be critically assessed. Here are a couple of questions to add to your evaluation:

• Was the health issue or wellness concern accurately interpreted? For example, did we prioritize the situation correctly?

• In our planning, when we considered all of the input sources, did we gauge the sources of funding, research, and support services accurately?

• As we implemented our programs, did we choose the best method to tackle the health issue or wellness concern? Was there a better alternative that we should have explored?

And so the questions could continue. Thorough evaluation of the planning process itself can be enlightening and sometimes quite surprising.

For the second idea, the focus is once programs are underway. Most of us tend to be diligent about tracking the number of people that participate, what the utilization rates are, what time is the most popular, what preferences participants have, etc. In fact, we probably have both quantitative and qualitative measures covering each program and service that is offered. But the question is could the evaluation be even better, more illustrative of the bigger picture? I would suggest yes and would encourage you to focus some time on evaluating those that don’t show up for the wonderful wellness programs on offer.

To do this, set aside some extra time for a few conversations with non-participants. First, think of the times when you have said to yourself “Why didn’t Joe Black or Mary Smith come to the nutrition program?” Make a list of several people to approach.

Take a few minutes and speculate on possible hidden barriers that might be in place.

Arrange to have a few water cooler chats or lunch meet-ups with some well-thought out, respectful questions to ask. Obtain their permission. Let them know you value their opinion and candid answers. (There may be some surprising results that can be part of your qualitative evaluation.)

And finally, once programs are over and have perhaps the appearance of great success, the wellness practitioner might be wondering about the longer-term outcomes. Was there a change in knowledge? Did the skill building portion of a seminar work? Was there a change in behaviour? Was the absenteeism rate impacted? And so on.

A third idea is to look at your overall wellness program with the longer-term view as well. Approach each health issue focused program with a view to making it a building block. For example, let’s say you were addressing healthy eating for the first time. Begin with a Level 1 basic awareness focus. The following year, add in a Level 2 for those that attended previously with a new focus of advancing their nutrition education with some skill building, such as imagine a hands on cooking class. The following year, a Level 3 could be added with new skills and a family focus. And so it goes — it’s human nature to want to learn more about what interests us but also to be acknowledged for our path of learning. Along the way, the structure of the programming allows us, as wellness professionals, to receive the feedback and see the evidence as the outcomes are achieved.

Good luck with stepping up your evaluation strategy. I look forward to questions and any suggestions you might have to add to the conversation.