Data Key Area 3:


Using Data to Assess Progress and Make Changes

If you are interested in more in-depth information, click on the links provided throughout this key area.

After you have started tracking data from your suicide-related data systems and conducted your initial community needs assessment, it is important to continue monitoring the data to understand the following:

  • How your community’s problem of suicide is changing over time
  • The progress you are making in carrying out your strategic plan
  • Where you need to make changes to the strategies you are implementing

Change occurs over time in the populations that are most impacted by suicide. Track these changes continuously so that you can improve suicide prevention efforts on an ongoing basis. The process of using data to track your impact and to improve efforts if needed is called continuous quality improvement (CQI).

Because data monitoring is a continuous process, it requires having staff or volunteers who are responsible for it. But the monitoring does not have to be overwhelming. By setting up clear expectations and processes to guide data monitoring, you can increase the likelihood of having data for continuous improvement efforts.

Key Steps

Establish expectations for monitoring data

Establish realistic expectations, roles, and processes for monitoring data. Having an established data subcommittee or work group in place will help. Balance the desire to have continuous suicide prevention data with what your data partners can realistically do. For example, you could ask each one to:

  • Be responsible for sharing noted trends in their data systems quarterly with the data subcommittee
  • Work collectively on an annual community suicide prevention data report that summarizes key data findings at the end of each calendar year

For additional guidance on establishing expectations, roles, and processes for monitoring data, visit SPRC’s Strategic Planning Approach, Step 5: Plan the Evaluation.

Coordinate data monitoring with community data efforts

Coordinate suicide prevention data monitoring with existing community data efforts. As you consider how to monitor changes to data over time, look at surveys and reports that are already being done in your community.

For example, if your schools participate in the Youth Risk Behaviors Surveillance System (YRBSS), you might ask the people who oversee the survey to share high-level results with people interested in suicide prevention. One way of doing this is to partner with your YRBSS representatives to create a community-level report or presentation on youth mental health and suicide prevention and share it with the suicide prevention coalition. Another way might be inviting your county coroner or medical examiner to join periodic coalition meetings or create informal reports with information on circumstances, methods, and demographic information related to deaths by suicide.

In both examples, local data personnel already collect, analyze, and report on the data so you are not adding a big burden onto any partner. You can also set up a schedule of meetings when data partners will present updated data over time and share their analysis with your suicide prevention coalition. Your ability to engage data partners in CQI for suicide prevention will be stronger when you have developed relationships before making data requests and/or if they are members of your community coalition.

Identify and fill data gaps

Identify suicide prevention data gaps and work with partners to fill them. As you strengthen your community’s use of suicide prevention data, you may see additional gaps in the available data. These gaps can include a lack of demographic or regional data, data on suicide-related behaviors from key agencies, and data on important risk and protective factors. To help you address these data gaps, collaborate with existing partners or develop new partnerships.

For example, you might note that your local community college conducts student wellness surveys with suicide prevention information but does not gather any information on whether students identify as LGBTQ. These data could be valuable information to guide your understanding of which students are being impacted by suicide. Your coalition might then work with the college to add in demographic questions on LGBTQ identity. This effort will be easier if a college representative is already a member of your coalition.

Another example is that you might have poor understanding of the risk and protective factors connected with several suicide deaths in a rural area of your community. If you are not already working with someone from that region, first focus on reaching out and developing relationships with area leaders. Then work with the local leadership to identify culturally appropriate methods for gathering information on the risk and protective factors. Holding interviews or focus groups with school and faith leaders might be viable methods to gather this information.

There are many creative ways to gather data on gaps, but partnerships with communities from which you are seeking to gather data is always key. These partnerships can help you ensure that you are gathering data with individuals so that they are part of the process and do not feel taken advantage of in any way.

See the Unity element for more information on developing partnerships and working with partners.

Decide on your data collection method(s)

As you fill data gaps, work with partners to identify the best way to collect the specific data you need. Interviews with community leaders, surveys, and formal focus groups will all provide different types of data. Each type can add to your prevention efforts in a different way. Check out the resource Selecting Data Collection Methods from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance on choosing different types of data collection methods.

Although we do not go in depth on the different data collection methods here, your local data partners will have key skills and knowledge for collecting and analyzing data. Sometimes local college and university students can even incorporate data collection and analysis for your suicide prevention efforts into their studies. Be sure to partner with people who can support and strengthen your ability to collect and use new data over time. Visit Data Key Area 1, Step 1: Ensure coalition can access and use quality data for suggestions on developing data partnerships.


Create evaluation plans

It is possible for a well-intentioned approach to have negative consequences or no impact even though it may seem to be providing a great service to the community. To steer clear of this pitfall, it is important to evaluate. The evaluation can help you adjust your approach when needed and focus your time and energy on areas of greatest impact. The more successes you can show, the more support you are likely to get for additional funding for saving lives.

Before you begin carrying out your suicide prevention approaches, decide how you will evaluate them. You will want to know the following:

  • Have the approaches been carried out as intended?
  • Are they reaching the target measurements for your objective?
  • Are they making a difference?

Training or community event attendance records are a good way to see if an individual program is helping you reach your intended audience. A survey conducted before and after an event, program, or training can help you see if the activities were carried out as intended and if they are effectively reaching the community. Pre- and post-measurements of participants’ knowledge, skills, and experiences can also help you identify whether strategies are having their intended impact.

It is important to monitor and evaluate each individual activity so that you can adjust as needed over time.

It is also crucial to assess the collective impact of programs, practices, and policies. This means monitoring the progress you are making across all goals, objectives, and strategies in your strategic plan. It also requires you to look at wider, more long-term impacts. For example, you could track whether there are more positive outcomes in school districts that provide suicide prevention policies, protocols, screenings, and trainings together over an extended period of time, versus schools that only offer suicide trainings. Or you could compare how several action steps in your strategic plan contribute to changes in the same risk and protective factors over time.

Why can’t we measure impact by seeing whether there are fewer suicide deaths? Although it would be ideal to see your effort’s impact on suicide death rates, it may take years to see that change because thankfully, suicide death numbers are usually small within any one geographic area alone. In a shorter time period, you can more likely see your prevention efforts make a difference in the rates of suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, and risk and protective factors in your community. Also examine whether these observed positive changes in data continue over the long term. If so, it is an even better measure of success.

Finally, consider the budget and time it will take to evaluate your efforts and set aside enough resources to do it. There are multiple ways that you could evaluate efforts. Some require more funding and resources than others, so consider your resources as you choose methods.

For additional guidance on evaluating suicide prevention efforts, see CDC Evaluation Resources and SPRC’s Strategic Planning Approach, Step 6: Implement, Evaluate, and Improve.

Enter your chosen evaluation measures into the Strategic Planning Worksheet, Section 3, Column 2.
Revisit and reaffirm or change your strategies

Set up regular times as a data work group and larger suicide prevention coalition to discuss any changes the data are showing, positive and negative evaluation results, and what they mean for your suicide prevention strategies. It is okay if you need to adjust the objectives in your plan or change which activity you use to reach your current objective. Consistently collecting and reflecting on data will help your group strengthen your suicide prevention efforts over time.

For more pointed guidance on using data throughout the process of putting programs, practices, and policies into place, visit the Planning element webpage.