Supportive Services Programs in Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. Outcomes Measurement

Most programs used participation in sponsored activities as a measure of program outcomes. Participation is a valid, if limited, measure of short-term program accomplishments, but it may be a less informative gauge of the program's long-term contributions to successful aging in place. Tracking participation also does not provide information on residents who do not participate. Non-participants may represent a more isolated part of the community with greater needs who may need different services or activities.

Ideally, the development of outcome measures would be a part of program planning, as it is in St. Louis, and would be in place from the beginning. As with any program, available outcomes data could provide information to support funding decisions. Outcome data could also be used in program management to improve operations and effectiveness. In addition, strong outcome data on successful models could be used in considering program replicability.

Clearly, outcomes measurement greatly needs further research. Developing good outcomes measures begins with clearly stating the objectives that are expected to contribute to the overarching goal of promoting successful aging in place. Because of NORCs' inherent diversity, this step is not necessarily straightforward; different objectives are more or less important in different situations. Further, aging in place takes time, so both short and long-term objectives and outcomes measures are needed. Developing and testing mechanisms for outcome measurement are critical to understanding how NORC services programs contribute to successful aging in place. As such, they should be given greater weight in decisions about future projects and research. As outcomes measures become better defined, funders will have a clearer basis for decisions about supporting or expanding NORC supportive services programs.

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