Overview of Network Health and Evaluation Tools

The evaluation of the health and effectiveness of the Minnesota Food Charter Network is intended to contribute to the network to achieve its potential in fostering the deep changes that need to occur in our food system.

Johnstad and Associates are in the process of developing a set of tools to assess Minnesota Food Charter Network effectiveness in three areas:

  1. Network vibrancy: Focuses on the essential characteristics the Minnesota Food Charter Network must have so that its efforts will be successful and sustainable (e.g., participation, network structure, and governance, opportunities for capacity development among members, alignment between member composition and network).
  2. Network connectivity: The focus here is on the nature of relationships within the network. Is everyone connected who needs to be? What is the quality of these connections? Is the network becoming more interconnected and coordinated? What is the network’s reach?
  3. Network effects: By effects, we mean the relevance and impact of the network on the implementation of the Food Charter strategies and goal of getting affordable, healthy, and safe food into the hands of all Minnesotans regardless of where they live or how much money they have.

Past network assessments have been done that we want to build on and not duplicate. Given what we know now, we plan to coordinate with and build on the work of the University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension. And, we are actively looking for others who are evaluating aspects of the Minnesota Food Charter Network to identify additional opportunities to coordinate our work.

The Minnesota Food Charter Network involves individuals, multiple teams, and many regional/local/sector specific network groups that will continue to evolve. We envision an array of tools that can be used at different levels from year-to-year. The contents of the tools can evolve as the MFCN matures. Current candidates include:

  • a brief questionnaire for individuals to use to assess and reflect on their own effectiveness as a network member,
  • a self-study tool for a team or a regional/local/sector specific network group to use to assess its health and performance,
  • a protocol for reviewing the content of key documents related to network functioning and effectiveness,
  • a tool for conducting a social network analysis to identify the core/periphery of the network and the resilience and cohesion of the network,
  • a feedback questionnaire for all Minnesota Food Charter Network members to use to anonymously share their honest impressions of the network’s strengths and areas needing further development,
  • a process for gathering and analyzing stories that represent examples of network effects.

Yes, this is complex and we are still learning. Collecting the data is only part of the work. The Minnesota Food Charter Network will only benefit from all this information if it is shared, reflected on, and if it contributes to action. We are just beginning the process of identifying potential setting and venues for using the data in this way. Think of these email messages as a way for us to share nuggets of information, the Minnesota Food Access Summit, facilitated webinar discussions, and your own team and network meetings. We are sure there are other opportunities out there—we just need to find them.

We welcome your questions, comments about our thinking so far, and don’t forget encouragement.

Kristin Johnstad, Project Director
Johnstad & Associates