Measuring health literacy outcomes

by Linny

capacity_buildingMany non-profit organisations that aim to improve the community share a common obstacle – that it is difficult to communicate or sell- the benefit of ‘longer term capacity building programs’.

The improvement of ‘health literacy’ is one of the long term objectives of The Water Well Project. Just how we are able to improve health literacy is notoriously difficult to measure within our community settings, but immeasurably important to the well-being of our target communities.


The World Health Organization has defined ‘health literacy’ as:

“the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health. Health Literacy means more than being able to read pamphlets and successfully make appointments. By improving people's access to health information and their capacity to use it effectively, health literacy is critical to empowerment”[1]


While it is difficult to measure our impact (or contribution) to long term health literacy, there are some things we can track.

For example, we can measure how many health sessions we deliver in communities. We can measure at the end of these sessions whether our participants have felt the content useful in adjusting to healthier behaviours. And we can measure whether our volunteers facilitating these sessions feel the experience has left them better equipped (as healthcare professionals and educators) to work with CALD individuals, and increased their awareness of migrant and refugee health issues.

Because these measures are important to us, our sessions focus on providing practical information about health.

For example in our healthy eating session, we teach the concept of "traffic lights" in food choices, and show communities how to read nutritional labels so that they can make healthier choices at the supermarket.

In our session on "Navigating the Australian healthcare system", we help communities understand how the healthcare systems is connected, the many preventative healthcare services available, what individuals are entitled to (such as free interpreters), and what individuals can expect if they go to see a doctor.

Our aim is to improve the health and well being of refugee and migrant communities. We believe that if we can reach individuals within these often disadvantaged communities, this will have a flow-on effect to their families and wider communities.

So, while ‘health literacy’ is the longer journey, it is this journey we connect with as we deliver each health session one step at a time.