Characteristics of Successful Programs
Effective rural health programs have key features that help make them successful. Not all programs need to have
all of these characteristics, but these factors do help contribute to successful rural community health
Evidence-based: As highlighted in Module 2: Developing a Program,
evidence-based and promising practices are instrumental to having a strong program model. Evidence-based
practice is conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about care
of the individual patient, program planning, and decision making for public health and healthcare. It means
integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available evidence from systematic research.
Implementing a program with an evidence-based model can help guide rural practitioners to make
decisions about which strategies will best address a particular problem. This can help avoid wasting time and
implementing a less effective program. Multiple registries that review evidence-based and promising practices
exist that can help communities identify program models that work for them. See Identify Evidence-Based and
Promising Program Models in Module 2 for examples.
Community Engagement: One key feature of successful programs is the engagement of many
stakeholders within a rural community. Programs that include a variety of different providers, agencies, and
investors in their programs are typically more effective. The engagement from multiple levels of the community
provides each rural health program with a connection to the community, increases knowledge about community
issues, and shows that the program wants to address community problems.
Strong Partnerships: In addition to building support from the community, it is important for
rural health programs to develop strong partnerships with other organizations. Organizations with similar
missions can partner with each other and work together to achieve similar goals. Partnerships can also help to
maximize the use and efficient allocation of resources, as well as provide expert opinions and community buy-in
for rural health programs. Partnerships can be formed with local school systems, community-based organizations,
hospitals, medical centers/clinics, or local government agencies. For example, several rural obesity programs
have partnered with local schools to serve as implementation sites for their program, so that the program could
more easily access obese youth populations.
Sustainability Plans: Sustainability is an important program component to address early in the
planning and implementation stages, so that systems can be established to actually keep the program functioning
and improving health in a community. A sustainability plan is a roadmap for achieving long-term goals and
documents strategies to continue the program, activities, and partnerships. Sustainability can be defined in
different ways—the sustainability of the values that the project promotes, the sustainability of relationships
between organizations, and the sustainability of services. Module 5 goes into more detail
about how rural health programs can develop strong sustainability plans.
Evaluation Support: Evaluation is a key to helping determine program effectiveness. Some
rural community health programs will have staff with evaluation expertise. Other programs may consider
establishing a relationship with researchers at a local university to provide external feedback on program
implementation, or evaluate the impact of the program. There are also organizations that specialize in program
evaluation and technical assistance, which can provide similar service.
Identify Community Challenges and Assets: A rural community will have challenges
that are specific to their population based on resources, social determinants of health, and needs. A program
that identifies potential challenges prior to implementation will be better prepared to address those
challenges, should they arise. Similarly, identifying community assets prior to implementation can better
position a program to leverage those assets in program activities.
Resources to Learn More
Program Planning Resource
Overview of the program planning and implementation process and its alignment with evaluation. Includes links to
resources that are relevant to each step of the process for additional information.
Organization(s): Community Preventive Services Task Force