Don't Make This Common Mistake! (Use Benchmarks for Comparison in Community Assessment)

Updated: May 26

Assessment is an essential component for those working to create a culture of health and equity, whether it’s a needs assessment at the onset of an effort to determine how and where to focus and prioritize efforts, or an impact assessment to ensure work is truly serving to improve community health and well-being.

One common mistake we see repeatedly is failing to include data benchmarks as comparative references in assessment. In other words, relevant data indicators are reported describing a specific community (e.g. county), but those indicators are not reported for other areas to use for comparison and context. While it’s important to use relevant data describing your target population, those numbers alone are usually meaningless. Let’s look at an example:


A community coalition in the southwest corner of the state of Colorado is working to develop a regional strategic plan to prevent and reduce impaired driving. The coalition is made up of representatives from three counties: Dolores County, La Plata County, and Montezuma County. Below, you can see they are using Liquor Store Access as one relevant indicator to inform their work. They are interested in this indicator because it sheds light on how easy or difficult it is to access and purchase alcoholic beverages in each county, which could impact rates of impaired driving.


Liquor Store Access (establishments, rate per 100,000 population) (2016)

The above data are accurate in that they describe the Liquor Store Access rate in each county, but what do these numbers mean? Without a comparative reference, we aren’t sure whether those numbers are high, low, or average.


Liquor Store Access (establishments, rate per 100,000 population) (2016)

As you can see, the addition data benchmarks contributes significant meaning to the data. Now, we see that the Liquor Store Access rates in all three Southwest Colorado counties are much higher than both the state and national rates. Incorporation of data benchmarks adds meaning and context to data and demonstrates how one might use data results to inform community action. These high density rates of local liquor stores might indicate that the Colorado community coalition should consider collaborating with local liquor stores to disseminate information about how to find a safe ride home as one of their impaired driving prevention strategies.


While it’s usually helpful to examine state and national benchmarks for comparison, you can also use organizational goals, grant objectives, or national goal framework numbers (e.g. Healthy People 2020/2030). Incorporating your own goal numbers into your assessment and results reports over time allows you to see how you are making progress towards meeting those goals, and also how state and national rates compare to your goal rates. The more benchmark numbers your assessment incorporates, the more meaning you can usually glean from the data, and the more information you have upon which to base decisions.


Want to talk about our simple, effective approach to assessment, including a clean user interface and easy comparison to state and national averages? Get in touch.

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