Review: Evaluation of the Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin Initiative

Published: November 20, 2019

Review: Evaluation of the Go! Austin / Vamos! Austin Initiative on residents’ physical activity and healthy eating

The Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin (GAVA) is a coalition of neighbors and community partners which organizes and mobilizes community efforts in ways that reduce barriers and increase institutional capacity in low-income communities. Although GAVA’s focus has changed over the past year, during the period of 2012-2017, GAVA focused much of its efforts on changing the built environment of two low-income, ethnically diverse communities. To do this, based on input from community residents and community leaders, GAVA worked with other local non-profit organizations to change the built environment, which included activities such as placing farm stands at schools, introducing fresh fruits and vegetables in convenience stores, helping to clean up dilapidated playgrounds and soccer fields, and placing lighting at the local recreation center. The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living performed an evaluation of GAVA’s efforts, which were centered in the Dove Springs and the 78745 postal code area of Austin, both communities in Austin which are majority Hispanic, low-income, and have high rates of food insecurity. Rates of obesity in Dove Springs are also much higher than the national  average— 53% of adults and 27% of children have obesity as compared to the national averages of 39.6% and 18.5%, respectively. As GAVA empowered residents to implement changes to green space and food access in their community, the GAVA evaluation team at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living facilitated and performed a multi-component evaluation to assess the efficacy and impact on residents’ healthy eating and physical activity.

Project Director of the GAVA Evaluation Study, Aida Nielsen, notes the importance of being adaptable, ”as with any community work, the intervention is –and should be-informed by the community; and as the intervention expands or shifts, the evaluation needs to be capturing appropriate information on program activities and outcomes.” In order to evaluate such a multi-faceted and evolving project, a variety of evaluation strategies were utilized. Katie Janda, a graduate assistant and PhD candidate at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin, helped with data collection and management. She agrees that the utilization of quantitative, qualitative, and observational methods “were crucial in order to effectively evaluate the dynamic nature of this project” over the course of GAVA’s 5-year study period. Preliminary results from the evaluation team show that efforts made during GAVA’s implementation “built community capacity and governance” in Dove Springs by working with community members to increase awareness on issues of food access and green space.

The evaluation results had enough strength to inform the program moving forward, and GAVA will be continuing on as a 503c3 non-profit. For more information, or to get involved, visit GAVA online.