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Barriers and Facilitators to Rural Program Evaluation

Substance use disorder (SUD) programs, especially in rural areas, may face barriers to implementation evaluation. Examples of common rural barriers to evaluation include:

  • Lack of funding to plan for or carry out evaluation activities or hire an independent evaluator
  • Lack of staff to support data collection and evaluation activities
  • Limited time to carry out an evaluation
  • Funding timelines, including time-limited grants that may limit the ability of program staff to measure progress towards medium-term or long-term program outcomes
  • Lack of necessary data for evaluation

Rural Behavioral Health Programs and Promising Practices, a guide from the Health Resources and Services Administration's Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, provides suggestions for developing and evaluating rural behavioral health programs. Strategies that may enable evaluation of rural mental health programs include:

  • Connecting with university faculty. Rural communities with existing connections to local universities and colleges may be able to identify or hire an individual who can support evaluation through these connections.
  • Hiring graduate students as evaluators. Graduate students in fields such as public health, psychology, sociology, social work, criminology, or public policy may be willing to conduct or assist with components of an evaluation as part of their graduate work.
  • Including researchers or evaluators in grant applications. Some rural SUD programs successfully partnered with evaluators by including them in the grant writing process and incorporating their services into the program design.
  • Attending national conferences. Program staff may be able to connect with evaluators or learn more about evaluation strategies by attending national conferences, such as the annual conferences of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) or the National Association of Rural Mental Health (NARMH).
  • Connecting with non-local universities or organizations. Programs may consider connecting with non-local or out-of-state evaluators if local evaluators are not available. Tools such as conference calls, videoconferencing, and email can help to facilitate the involvement of non-local experts in program evaluation.