Learn from past community gardening efforts to improve your future

Seeking feedback from your members can help guide your future success by taking the time to review and evaluate community garden program efforts.

Once a community garden is organized and growing through membership and structure, it’s a good time to get feedback from your members. Previously, Michigan State University Extension published a related article, “Community Garden Organizations Need Structure and Strategic Planning,” in which I discussed the use of strategic planning and understanding the evolution of the organizational structure. In this article, we’ll explore why evaluation can help determine if you’re achieving your goals and mission.

Assessing the progress of specific projects is important because you can measure factors important to the organization such as: value or worth, efficiency, and participation rates. Maybe you want to know if the desired results are being achieved or even if garden members like the new seed choices. Many groups and organizations use regular periodic reviews to encourage employee, customer, and customer feedback. Getting the information you are looking for from your assessment is the important part.

Effective evaluations provide indicators that can demonstrate the value of your community garden to the neighborhood, local authorities, funders and the community as a whole. Using an assessment depends on what you want to get out of it. Start by identifying what needs to be evaluated (a program, project or activity), for example, you want to know if people have learned organic gardening techniques in a community garden that promotes these practices.

Next, determine who will benefit from the information gained and what specific information they may want to learn. This is important because, to use the example above, let’s say one of your funders is a local conservation group that values ​​an organic gardening approach. This is the part that would benefit the most from this information. You could just as easily rate your garden volunteers and tenants on how things are going. This would make the garden organizers the recipients of the information obtained so that they can adapt accordingly.

It is important to create your assessment instrument and decide who you want to include in the assessment. Questions relating to participation, activities, reactions, short-term changes in behavior or attitude, changes in gardening practices, and long-term changes can all be used. Also consider asking about the quality of the experience, the relevance of a program or its effectiveness.

The types of assessments vary and valuable information and data can come from many sources. Direct observation and information from small informal groups can be helpful. Another option could be a group assessment such as a focus group; surveys are the most common and come in a variety of formats; or a mixture of any of the above. Assessments may also include information collected from other sources that have previously collected data sources. These may include: police records for changes in crime rates, school records for graduation rates, and other public data.

Then report your results. Often, the survey respondent is interested in the resulting report, as are your stakeholders and other supporters. Finally, use the information you have gathered to improve where you can. First and foremost, reviews are a valuable tool that can show you where you’re doing well and where you might need improvement.

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