Evaluation demonstrates success of Oliver's Food Security Plan

Less than 3 years after the development of a strategy to improve food security, The Town of Oliver has commenced Oliver Edible Pathways, its first project directly from the Food Secure Oliver Plan. Recognizing the importance of demonstrating the project’s impact for the community, the project group teamed up with BC Healthy Communities to evaluate the project, allowing them to show the success of their work. 

After receiving a three-year Community Food Action Initiative grant from Interior Health in 2016, the community put some of its own municipal budget behind the initiative, and began developing the Food Secure Oliver Plan. Late 2018 saw the plan move into implementation. The five main goals of the Plan relate to creating community food culture, agricultural heritage, preserving skills through traditions, local food economy, sustainable practices and building capacity through leadership and innovation. The Plan aims to ensure that healthy, locally sourced food is available to all, and is the heart of a diverse culture and local economy.

From the very start, the planning process for the Food Secure Oliver Plan was community-led, and the plan itself is written from the community level with a collaborative perspective and voice. Carol Sheridan, Manager of Oliver Parks and Recreation explained that the Plan’s development included extensive community engagement in partnership with community members, health authority staff, non-profits, the Town of Oliver, business and producers. “We’re hoping that when people read it they can see themselves in it, see that this is something they could be a part of.”

The Oliver Edible Pathways Project was inspired by similar edible pathway work in Revelstoke and Trail. Oliver Edible Pathways collaborates with community partners and organizations to create a series of edible planters in front of Downtown Oliver businesses. It aims to bring awareness to the Food Secure Oliver Plan, increase access to local food, to get people to see how little space it takes to grow your own food, and to support the creation of a sustainable local food system. The project also connects to Oliver’s Revitalization Plan because it aims to attract people to the planters and bring foot traffic to businesses to support the local economy. Receiving the PlanH Creating Healthy Places Grant, which included cash funding as well as in-kind supports from the team at BC Healthy Communities, allowed Oliver to launch the project and bring the vision to life.

“Without evaluation, it is hard to know whether your plan is working and whether you are meeting your objectives.”

The Edible Pathways project team knew they wanted to build evaluation into their work, and decided to reach out to BC Healthy Communities staff for support.

Carol explained “We had talked about needing to show outcomes, and reaching out was the first step to build that capacity amongst the advisory and project team. Without evaluation, it is hard to know whether your plan is working and whether you are meeting your objectives. It’s a measurement tool to check how we are doing, where do we need to go from here and what’s working, and what’s not working.”

So far, BC Healthy Communities and the project team have worked together to produce a logic model—a framework that outlines the project’s resources, activities and what the project aims to accomplish in the next year and in the long term. The framework identifies how the project links to the broader Food Secure Oliver Plan, so everything is connected. These frameworks are often used for evaluation planning because they are useful for mapping out a project or program from start to end, and help build consensus around key activities and outcomes. Once a project team knows what they are looking to accomplish through their work, it’s easier to figure out how and what data they should track. Read more about logic modelling here.

Caitlyn Bennett, the project’s lead coordinator highlighted that logic modelling can also be a great planning tool. “I always thought about evaluation after a project. The key takeaway for me is that it is a planning tool that can be done at the beginning, middle and end of a project.”  

The next step for the group is identifying indicators—signposts for tracking success in reaching your outcomes. In evaluation, once communities have identified an outcome they want to accomplish, there can be many ways of measuring progress. For example, through this project, Oliver expects to:

  • Increase public access to local food. This can be tracked in different ways. The project team could interview some business owners to get their perspective on pedestrian traffic to the planters, and whether people are picking the edibles. The group could also track how much of the edible planters they donate to local food banks within a specified time period.
  • Increase awareness of the Oliver Edible Pathways Project and Food Secure Oliver Plan. The project team could track usage of their social media outlets (i.e. increased traffic to these pages that promote the project over a specified time period). They could also track new partnerships, interview community organizations, or chat with new partners to learn of their perceptions of the project and plan and how they came to know about the work.

For Oliver, despite only being mid-way through their project, evaluation work is proving to be helpful. The project team is already using their evaluation skills for other projects, identifying shared goals, the audience for their work and resources available. “It seems so difficult but it really is so simple when you look back and see the evaluation plan afterwards. It creates such a clearer picture.”

As Oliver has learned, incorporating evaluation into local government projects is a powerful way to demonstrate value and celebrate success. The community’s success with evaluation on this project is also proof that evaluation can still happen even on projects with limited staff capacity: evaluation does not have to complicated, and can often be simplified and scaled to meet the needs and bandwidth of staff members.

Aside from demonstrating impact and outcomes, Sheridan shared with us that in the past, she’s experienced that evaluation can have other, unexpected benefits. The very process of bringing people together can build relationships and strengthen consensus around project visions.

“You remember that the process of getting to that answer is valuable…more valuable than the end product in some ways.”

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