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Barriers to Evaluation and Strategies to Overcome these Barriers

Substance use disorder treatment and prevention programs, especially in rural areas, frequently face several barriers to evaluation, including:

  • Lack of resources and funding to carry out an evaluation or hire an independent evaluator
  • Lack of time to carry out an evaluation
  • Funding timelines: Grants are often given for only a few years, which may not allow the program to measure 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 Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, provides suggestions for developing and evaluating rural mental health programs. Suggested strategies for evaluating rural mental health programs include:

  • Connect with university faculty: Rural communities with existing connections to local universities and colleges may be able to hire an evaluator through these connections.
  • Consider hiring graduate students as evaluators: Graduate students in some of the fields discussed above may be willing to conduct or assist with an evaluation as part of their graduate work.
  • Include researchers or evaluators in grant applications: Potential evaluators may be willing to help a program write a grant application if they are to be hired to conduct the evaluation.
  • Attend national conferences: Program staff may be able to connect with evaluators by attending national conferences such as those of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) or the National Association of Rural Mental Health (NARMH).
  • Consider non-local universities or organizations: Programs should 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 evaluation by non-local experts.