By Trisha Bautista Larson, MPH, Program Manager and Karen Spangler, MPP, Policy Director

The public health community has long referred to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC’s) Framework for Program Evaluation as a tool to enhance and disseminate public health strategies. Twenty-five years after its creation, the CDC recently announced it would update the framework and called for comments. National Farm to School Network (NFSN) understands that evaluation is an integral part of program and policy development, implementation, and sustainability – and when conducted with equity in mind, it has the power to cultivate community empowerment. As part of our commitment to our Call to Action, we have submitted comments to the CDC urging for racial and social equity principles to be embedded in the new iteration of the evaluation framework. This is a remarkable opportunity to confront the structural racism in program and policy research and analysis, which have been rooted in extracting information from communities, to one that reimagines the way findings are shared and increases stakeholder accountability.

CDC’s Evaluation Framework Update Should Include:

  • Systems Thinking - Provide tools that support a more complex view of program impact and reflect advances in public health research. Farm to school and farm to early care education practitioners see every day that health is shaped by more than just individual behavioral interventions. Thus, the new Framework should take into consideration the complexity of translating programs and policy recommendations into real world applications. Explicitly including approaches such as the Policy, Systems, and Environmental change allows for crucial flexibility in adapting “best practices” for program and policy implementation at the community and individual levels. Integrating PSE approaches in the new Framework can help bridge the complex intersection of inter/intrapersonal relationships, community, and other social factors with knowledge, behavior, and ultimately, long-term health outcomes for program and policy implementation. 
  • Asset-based Approach and Lived Experiences - Consider the lived experiences and knowledge that already exist in the communities intended to be served even prior to introduction to a new program or policy initiative. Proactively working to engage those who are directly impacted by health inequities can bolster the ability to make long-term change beyond a specific program or policy intervention. 
  • Collaboration - Ensure that evaluation design and evidence gathering are not extractive of communities. The new Framework should seek to embed and build upon Community-Based Participatory Research methods. Approaches like these foster equitable relationships between researchers/practitioners and community stakeholders to cultivate a space that centers mutuality and community empowerment. The new Framework should also be able to set fresher standards on ways to equitably communicate and distill research findings.

For additional information and framework around centering racial and social equity in farm to school evaluation, please visit NFSN’s Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool for Farm to School Programs and Policy. This tool was developed in consultation with NFSN Partner organizations that are deeply rooted in embedding health equity in their work. 

We are thankful for the opportunity to offer this perspective to the CDC as they craft the next iteration of the framework for program evaluation. This is an essential time for agencies to be investigating the way in which practitioners – much like in the public health community – evaluate and communicate research findings that aim to impact health outcomes.