Lessons from a Mixed-Methods Approach to Evaluating Active Living by Design

Active Living by Design (ALbD) supported 25 community partnerships in the United States to use community design to affect physical activity. An evaluation of the program began in the fourth year of the five-year intervention, and the evaluation lasted three years. There were three primary aims to the ALbD evaluation: 1) to assess impacts of physical projects and policy changes on community environments; 2) to document intervention strategies implemented; and 3) to identify both strengths and challenges in planning developing, and implementing interventions.

To address these aims, a mixed-method, triangulated approach was used for the evaluation. Methods included were a partnership capacity survey, concept mapping, a progress reporting system, key informant interviews, focus groups, photos and videos, environmental (community) audits, and direct observation.

There were several challenges to the evaluation, including lack of baseline data, difficulty in evaluation natural experiments, demand for ongoing policy surveillance, and necessity of longer-term endpoint.

The authors argue that despite these challenges to the mixed-methods evaluation of ALbD at both the component level and the overall level, this evaluation advances evaluation of community-based efforts for promoting active living.

Active Living by Design creates community-led change by working with local and national partners to build a culture of active living and healthy eating. Established by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ALbD is part of the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.