Tomsho KS, Schollaert C, Aguilar T, Bongiovanni R, Alvarez M, Scammell MK, Adamkiewicz G. (2019). A Mixed Methods Evaluation of Sharing Air Pollution Results with Study Participants via Report-Back Communication. Environ Res. Public Health 16 (21).
Sharing study results with participants is sometimes referred to as “report-back.” Over the last 10-15 years, more environmental health scientists have been getting into the practice of “report-back”, not only when study results have a clear health implications, but also when results are uncertain as to their individual or community impacts. The argument for report-back is that it may improve “environmental health literacy” and empower residents to act. (It also helps inform researchers about the community concern, and impressions of science.) Harvard doctoral student, Kathryn Tomsho, with CRESSH investigators on the Community Engagement Core (CEC) and the HOME Study team, published an evaluation of the report-back in Chelsea, MA. The purpose was to measure how well the intended information was communicated to study participants, and how participant indoor air pollution data was valued by participants. Evaluation data were collected via mail-out questionnaires, in-person meeting participation, post-meeting questionnaires, an anonymous call-line, resulting in qualitative and quantitative data that allowed for “mixed methods evaluation”. The data were evaluated for how well the report back materials and process engaged study participants, enabled participants to comprehend the data, inspired them to take action, and provide information of value to participants. The CRESSH researchers found that there were significant differences between participants who responded to the mail-in questionnaires (i.e., engaged in the report-back) and attended the meeting and those who did not respond at all. People who the team effectively engaged were more likely to have higher education attainment, be of older age, preferred speaking English, and identified as white and non-Hispanic or Latin-x. Of those who engaged, the majority of participants understood and interpreted their survey questions as researchers hoped that they would. Participants who attended the in-person report-back sessions left with a better understanding of their data and health implications than when they arrived. This indicates that there was knowledge gained during the meeting that improved people’s understanding of the data they received, as oppose to what was gleaned from only reading the report back packets. Overall, the CEC and HOME Study teams gathered useful data on how to best focus their efforts to improve understandability and inclusivity of report back sessions for future studies.