Witnesses to Hunger Evaluation Report
Summary of Findings
This report represents the first time we have been able to take a long pause and think about how well we’re doing as a group – to reflect and self-evaluate. We set out to find out how each of us views our work and our actions, and to find out from our partners what they value most about Witnesses to Hunger. We held focus groups and interviews, created surveys, and sought feedback from our members, partners, and staff.
We learned that what members of Witnesses to Hunger value most is the sense of connection to others committed to “breaking the chain” of poverty, and that one of the most important roles of the program is to connect members and sites with one another. We were glad to learn that our partners truly value our work, and that our staff is devoted to our success. We also learned that most of us want to take more local action, and to see direct impact in our own communities. For these kinds of actions, we will need more training and time to invest in members’ professional development. Then, we’ll be ready to get back on the road, train others, and build a lasting movement to eradicate poverty.
We invite you to have a look at what we learned, and to join and support us in our next steps forward.
Evaluation of Witnesses to Hunger
Over the last year, we talked with various stakeholders, including members of Witnesses to Hunger, staff members at Witnesses to Hunger sites, and organizational partners, about how to strengthen and improve the Witnesses to Hunger program. We wanted to understand the most important values, activities, and processes of the program, as well as some of the challenges, impacts, and opportunities for growth and development.
First, we held focus groups and interviews with members of Witnesses and staff to learn what they thought about various elements of the program.
Next, we used this information to create three anonymous online surveys. We sent the surveys to Witnesses to Hunger members, site staff, and partners.
Stakeholder Response Rates
- 51 Witnesses to Hunger members of 80
- 6 Witnesses to Hunger site staff members of 8
- 17 organizational partners of 57
Member Response Rate by Site
Witnesses to Hunger has 10 sites along the East Coast. At least one member of Witnesses to Hunger from each site participated in the survey. 51 members completed at least some questions, and 44 members completed the entire survey.
- Philadelphia - 18
- Camden - 8
- Boston - 7
- Washington, D.C. - 6
- New Haven and Connecticut Statewide - 7
- Greater Pennsylvania - 2
- Baltimore - 1
- Martha's Vineyard - 1
- Rhode Island - 1
- October-December 2015 – Interviewed and held focus groups with members of Witnesses and site staff
- January-March 2015 – Analyzed interviews and focus groups
- April 2016 – Finished Evaluation Progress Report
- May 2016 – Designed evaluation survey
- June-July 2016 – Distributed online survey to Witnesses, site staff, and organizational partners
- August-September 2016 – Analyzed survey responses
- January 2017 – finished final Evaluation Report
Participation in Activities
Most members of Witnesses to Hunger participate in activities a few times per year. About equal numbers say that their participation has increased or decreased over time.
How often do you participate in Witnesses to Hunger activities?
|More than once a month
|About once a month
|A few times a year
|Once a year or less
|Haven't participated in over a year
How has your participation changed over time?
|I participate more often
|It's about the same
|I participate less often
Enthusiasm about Program
We asked members of Witnesses about their enthusiasm for the program both when they first joined Witnesses to Hunger and today. Over three-quarters reported very high or somewhat high enthusiasm both today and when they first joined.
How would you rate your enthusiasm for Witnesses to Hunger?
|Level of Enthusiasm
|Neither High Nor Low
Below are some of the ways that members of Witnesses explained how their feelings shifted over time.
- Higher Enthusiasm Today: “When I first joined I didn't know what to expect or how to feel. Today I am happy that I can voice my opinions on hunger issues and many others. Some of our politicians do hear us as well as try to address some of these issues – even if it's baby steps.”
- No Change: “There is no real difference. I was excited when I first joined because I finally had a platform to tell my story and advocate for change. I feel the same way almost 2 years later. Nothing happens overnight, but my voice will hit the right ears at the right time.”
- Lower Enthusiasm Today: “At first I was excited to tell my story, but I felt like I didn't really connect with the group more often. I felt like I was [moving] away from everyone while I am still going through my situations and didn't feel [any] change.”
Community and Policymaker Response
Overall, members rated responses to their Witnesses to Hunger site as mostly positive, with policymaker responses slightly more positive than community member responses.
How would you rate community members' and policymakers' responses to your Witnesses to Hunger site?
|Neither Positive of Negative
Core Values and Activities
Members of Witnesses to Hunger each chose their top 3 most important values and activities of the program. Below are the top 3 chosen by all members from all Witnesses to Hunger sites.
What do you think are the top 3 core values of Witnesses to Hunger?
- "Break the chain" of poverty and hunger - 43
- Support with current struggles and challenges - 39
- Promoting human rights - 28
What do you think are the top 3 core activities of Witnesses to Hunger?
- Speaking out for solutions and change - 39
- Networking with others - 38
- Meeting policymakers - 25
Frequency and Success of Activities
Members of Witnesses rated the frequency and success of major activities of the program. We grouped these activities into four main categories: speaking out, events, policy, and community. Members identified networking with others and speaking out for solutions and change as activities happening most often, and rated exhibits and photography and speaking with press as most successful.
Most members described themselves as very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the Witnesses to Hunger leadership.
- Very Satisfied - 17
- Somewhat Satisfied - 15
- Neither Satisfied or Dissatisfied - 6
- Somewhat Dissatisfied - 4
- Very Dissatisfied - 1
Very Satisfied: “I am satisfied because [staff] and Witnesses have built a common ground on what we want as individuals and as an organization! We all have the same passion for change, and no matter what happens we can still all agree on what we believe in, and that's change!”
Somewhat Satisfied: “I think there needs to be more education on the grass roots level, and financial support from the appropriate government departments…There needs to be more interaction on a personal level with people in need… Perhaps a special event from time to time would create more of a community within the community.”
Somewhat Dissatisfied: “Witnesses makes moves for the better, [but] it [doesn’t] benefit me because the same people do every event. Everybody should have a voice not just one.”
Members said that the most important roles of the local site and National Office staff are to connect members to one another and to policymakers, and support the members’ professional development.
What should the staff at your Witnesses to Hunger site do to support members of Witnesses?
- Opportunities to connect with other Witnesses - 33
- Opportunities to connect with policymakers - 28
- Plan events and ensure Witnesses have materials - 27
What should the Witnesses to Hunger National Office do to support members of Witnesses?
- Connect members and staff from different sites - 34
- Host conferences and trainings - 33
- Give advice to new sites - 24
Benefits and Challenges
Members of Witnesses also identified major community benefits, individual benefits, and challenges of participating in the program. The top three options they selected most often are shown below.
What are the top 3 benefits you have seen happen in your community as a result of Witnesses to Hunger?
- Raising awareness of hunger and poverty - 34
- Educating community members on rights and resources -25
- Policymakers hear from people with firsthand experience - 23
What are the top 3 benefits you have experienced as a member of Witnesses to Hunger?
- Being heard and sharing experiences - 39
- Group support and friendship from Witnesses - 32
- Personal growth - 29
What are the top 3 challenges you have experienced as a member of Witnesses to Hunger?
- Difficulty staying involved because of life circumstances - 19
- Disagreements between Witnesses - 15
- Limited resources of program - 15
Members of Witnesses also identified major community benefits, individual benefits, and challenges of participating in the program. All options are shown below, ranked by how often they were chosen.
- More connection among Witnesses - 29
- More training/professional development - 28
- More youth involvement - 27
- More connection between sites - 24
- Improved communication between Witnesses and staff - 23
- Highlight Witnesses' strengths and assets -20
- Expansion to new Witnesses at current sites -19
- More local and regional advocacy - 17
- Expansion to new sites - 16
Relevance and Response to Sites
Staff reported that Witnesses to Hunger was either very relevant or relevant to their organization’s mission, and that people usually respond positively to their site. Staff said that policymakers’ responses slightly more positive than community members’ responses.
Activity Frequency and Success
Like the members of Witnesses, staff also rated the frequency and success of major activities of the program. We grouped these activities into four main categories: speaking out, events, policy, and community. Staff identified speaking out for solutions and change as the activity happening most often, and exhibits and photography as most successful.
Core Values and Activities
Like members, Witnesses to Hunger staff each chose their top 3 most important values and activities of the program. Below are the top 3 chosen by all staff from all sites, which overlap with members’ top 3.
What do you think are the top 3 core values of Witnesses to Hunger?
- Witnesses lead advocacy and what they say isn't scripted - 6
- "Breaking chain of poverty" for themselves and others - 4
- Partnership between Witnesses and staff - 3
What do you think are the top 3 core activities of the Witnesses to Hunger program?
- Challenging Stereotypes - 5
- Speaking out for solutions and change - 4
- Exhibits & photography - 3
Support and Future Improvements
Staff, like members of Witnesses, believed that connecting sites with one another through check in calls and meetings was a major priority for the National Office. Staff also wanted to see more trainings and professional development for current members and expanding the program to new members.
What are some of the most important ways the National Office can support partner sites?
- Regular check-in calls - 6
- Leadership on national policy agenda - 5
- Manual / toolkit - 5
- Helping to connect Witnesses and staff from different sites - 5
How should Witnesses to Hunger improve in the future?
- More trainings / professional development for Witnesses - 6
- Expansion of program to new Witnesses at existing sites - 6
- More opportunities for connection between partner sites - 6
We invited partners from organizations and agencies who have worked with Witnesses to Hunger over the years, including anti-hunger advocates, community organizers, elected officials, foundation representatives, and others. Most had worked with the Philadelphia site, and over half had been involved with Witnesses to Hunger for over three years.
Partners reported that some of Witnesses to Hunger’s biggest impacts has been transformation of the advocacy process, encouraging inclusion of low-income advocates as well as strengthening anti-hunger and anti-poverty work.
- Building Relationships with Legislators: “Witnesses’ presence in Philadelphia and PA has made for closer ties to Senator Casey, and with other congressional anti-hunger champions such as Rep. Jim McGovern. Witnesses have helped to strengthen the commitment of champions - don't underestimate the importance of this.”
- Challenging Stereotypes: “Witnesses have dispelled stereotypes by showing how hard-working they are, and what good parents.”
- Strengthening Anti-Hunger and Anti-Poverty Advocacy: “The [members of] Witnesses very selflessly put a human face on hunger and poverty, which lays the ground work for fair and effective solutions to these issues.”
- National Policy Changes and Including Low-Income Advocates: “Pushing the expansion of WIC to age 6 in Child Nutrition Reauthorization – the Witnesses were [the] only ones doing this, and then [it was] included in Senate CNR bill. Paul Ryan publicly acknowledged he was wrong about "takers" frame. The ONLY expert witness at House poverty hearings was [a member of] Witnesses!”
Enthusiasm about Program
Overall, partners reported higher enthusiasm today compared with first learning about the program.
|Level of Enthusiasm
||First Learned About It
|Neither High Nor Low
Higher Enthusiasm Today: “Their stories are so powerful. I love the photo exhibits but have been excited to see the Witnesses telling their stories more (taking it beyond just the audience that proactively goes to the exhibits) in the media and to key policymakers.”
No Change: “No difference, just a deeper dedication and connection to the members of the program. Over the years I've been able to build relationships through the program and cherish the sacrifice of all the women.”
Like members and staff, speaking out for solutions and change was a top 3 activity for partners.
What do you think are the most important activities of Witnesses to Hunger?
- Meeting with policymakers - 12
- Speaking out for solutions and change - 10
- Challenging stereotypes - 8
“I would like them to be able to do more of what they're doing, so more resources to allow more supports to help the Witnesses be more effective advocates, and to expand capacity to recruit more.”
“Many of [the members] are taking the extra step to put their stories out there and sacrifice a lot to make it happen. It would be great to work with them to provide the services they need to progress economically.”
“I love when they offer recommendations for policy change - more of this, and let's make sure allies amplify them to shape the DC organizations’ policy agendas.”
What Makes Witnesses to Hunger Unique?
- “Providing space and opportunity for people directly affected by hunger and poverty to make their opinions and thoughts heard in places where action can be taken and change can happen is enormously powerful.” – Staff
- “Our courage through what we do!” – Member
- “Because it brings about hard core conversations that everyone else is afraid to discuss.” – Member
First Hand Experience
- “We can speak for ourselves. [We are] not made to change our words around.” – Member
- “No one can tell our stories but us because we have lived them. I may not know policy but I do know how the current policies affect me and my children.” – Member
- “Witnesses to Hunger is unique because we are an advocacy group based off of experience and not just facts.” – Member
- “I feel that the meetings with law makers and officials helps make Witnesses to Hunger different than any other program.” – Member
- “Witnesses have something extremely valuable to contribute to public decision-making. Instead of advocates like me finding people to tell their stories without follow-up, Witnesses ensures that storytellers become on-going advocates. To me, that's pretty unique and incredibly important.” – Partner
Conclusions and Next Steps
Witnesses to Hunger is at an important transition point, moving beyond its beginnings as a research and advocacy project and becoming a sustainable community advocacy program that spans the country. This evaluation highlights many strengths of the Witnesses to Hunger program, as well as some opportunities for future development.
In the next few years, Witnesses to Hunger will continue to build on key strengths, including:
- Speaking out for solutions and change in as many spaces as possible, including opportunities with both government representatives and community members
- Providing testimony, education, and specific policy recommendations for legislators at all levels of government
- Continuing our exhibits of photography highlighting firsthand experiences of hunger and poverty
- Expanding our strong supportive network of advocates, including more members at existing sites and new sites across the United States, and involving children and youth in advocacy
Witnesses to Hunger will also incorporate some of the opportunities for growth and development identified by members, partners, and staff, including:
- Increasing training and professional development opportunities for members to build on their advocacy skills and knowledge
- Connecting Witnesses to Hunger members and sites with one another to strengthen relationships, learn from one another, and take action together
- Creating more partnerships with organizations in each city to magnify our advocacy network
- Expanding local action and advocacy, building on existing work at the national level
We learned over the past 18 months that we cherish our connections to one another, and that it’s important to find more ways to stay connected and to keep our bonds strong. When we are standing together, arm in arm, we are all powerful.