Stages of Network Development and Role of Evaluation

Did you see the front-page article in the Sunday Star Tribune (April 24, 2017) about the demand for local food? It highlights some of the great work in Minnesota and the strides that have been made in the past 15 years. For example, the number of Minnesota Grown farmers markets have increased statewide from 45 in 2002 to 181 today. Last year, there were 608 community gardens in the Twin Cities, up from 166 in 2009.

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how the Minnesota Food Charter Network serves to enhance collaboration and alignment at the local, regional, and state levels and encourage innovation through networking, shared learning, and facilitated connections among resources and partners.   

We must remember that the Network was just launched in Fall 2015 and developmentally is quite young as far as networks go.

The catalyzing stage culminated in the creation of the Minnesota Food Charter in 2014.  It involved work by many of you to create a detailed roadmap designed to guide policymakers and community leaders in providing Minnesotans with equal access to affordable, safe, and healthy food regardless of where they live.  

In Fall 2015, the launching stage began where the broad purpose of the Network was laid out and operationalized, four priority work areas were articulated, and members began to explicate their individual, but linked, action plans.

Now in 2017, we are moving toward the phase where the focus is on enhancing and expanding the Network. At this point in the Network’s development, it becomes important to systematically compile and aggregate data across members to track overall network progress.  Capturing the results of the Network’s work will be important, but generating information that members can use in learning and continuous improvement is vital to fostering Network health over time.

This is where Johnstad and Associates comes into the picture. The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, in collaboration with the Minnesota Food Charter Network, recently contracted with us to document the launch of the Network and to develop an evaluation framework and data collection tools to assess Network effectiveness. Many of you may already know members of our evaluation team: Kristin Johnstad, Gale Mason-Chagil, and Pat Seppanen.

Right now, we are focused on understanding how the Network is structured, the current priorities, and the activities of the teams across the state. We are learning that others of you are actively involved in generating evaluation data so we are reaching out to find out how our work might be coordinated.

Periodically during the coming year, we will be providing evaluation data that network members working at different levels can use for real-time learning and improvement.  

We know that some of you will just want to know when our work is done. Others will want to be involved along the way as we develop the evaluation framework and data collection tools.  To facilitate this involvement, we will be issuing Evaluation News every month to keep you up to date on our work. If you have questions or ideas about what we should include in the Notes, please contact us at any point.  

Kristin Johnstad, Project Director
Johnstad & Associates