Online Program

Measuring impact: How do organizations sponsoring short-term international health volunteers know if they are making a difference?

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 3:30 p.m. - 3:45 p.m.

Judith Lasker, Ph.D., Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA
Approximately one million Americans travel annually to other countries to participate in short-term programs that are promoted as focused on improving the health and well-being of people in poor communities. These are sponsored by educational institutions, faith-based organizations, NGO's, corporations, and volunteer matching services. There is considerable evidence of the advantages to the volunteers/students of participating in these projects, but very little research to date has focused on whether there are actual health benefits to the recipient communities.

This paper addresses the efforts by organizations that send volunteers/students to evaluate their work, based on: a) a survey of 176 American organizations that sponsor such trips; and b) in-depth interviews with twenty directors or staff members of such organizations.

Results from the survey and interviews reveal the following main findings:

• Almost all formal evaluation currently carried out is focused on the experience of and performance by the volunteers, not the impact on host communities. • Many organizations have goals that are other than, and may even conflict with, the improvement of health in the countries to which they send volunteers. It is these other goals that often receive attention in evaluations. • A few organizations have begun to hire M&E staff and to develop metrics for impact of their work in host communities, but this is still in early stages.

The paper concludes with identification of best practices in evaluation of short-term volunteer/student trips and suggestions for improvement from related research on host country staff perceptions of volunteers.

Learning Areas:

Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the scope of short-term volunteer and student activities in global health in terms of sponsorship and goals. Discuss the challenges to evaluating impact of such activities on host communities. Identify best practices in evaluation of short-term volunteer/student trips.

Keyword(s): Assessments, Service Learning

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have a Ph.D. in Sociology and have been conducting and publishing research in the sociology of health and medical care for many years. The current abstract is based on a new project started over a year ago and carried out entirely by myself and student assistants with internal competitive funding from Lehigh University.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.