Cheryl Kelly, PhD, MPH, MA

Evaluation Investigator
Partners in Evaluation & Research (PiER) | Institute for Health Research - KPCO


Cheryl Kelly, PhD, MPH, MA, is an Investigator at the Institute for Health Research and leads the Partners in Evaluation & Research (PiER). By design, her portfolio has largely been funded by regional and national foundations. These projects have provided Dr. Kelly with a unique set of skills in evaluating a wide range of projects in diverse settings. Her evaluation projects incorporate multiple methods and interdisciplinary approaches to gather qualitative and quantitative data including web-based monitoring systems to collect data, direct observation of behaviors and environments, GIS mapping, concept mapping, policy analysis, partnership surveys, population surveys, qualitative interviews, focus groups and sustainability assessments. These projects provide her with an opportunity to conduct practice-based research and evaluation and allow her to see and experience how public health interventions directly impact the community.

The beginning of my career was focused on developing methodology to measure the impact of the built environment on physical activity and healthy eating. This work highlighted the importance of policy, system, and environmental changes to support healthier behaviors. However, I quickly realized that to improve health behaviors, we first must address basic needs. In the past 5 years, my work has shifted to focus more on assessing the impact of interventions designed to change upstream factors (e.g., housing, food security, education). As my portfolio has grown in this area, I am well aware of the challenges associated with comprehensively assessing the impact of policy, system, and environmental changes on upstream factors. Being an investigator at Kaiser Permanente Colorado provides a unique opportunity to overcome some of these challenges because of our access to large secondary datasets that link individual and neighborhood-level data.

Dr. Kelly earned her PhD in Public Health Sciences (emphasis in Behavioral Science) at Saint Louis University where she also completed her Master of Public Health degree. Dr. Kelly is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Systems Science at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, serves as a reviewer for a number of academic journals, and is an Associate Editor for the Health Behavior and Policy Review.

Areas of Focus

  • Practice-based research and evaluation
  • Social determinants of health
  • Policy, system, environmental changes

Current Work


Thrive Local Evaluation

Dr. Kelly is co-PI of the evaluation of Kaiser Permanente’s Thrive Local initiative that is designed to link clinical care to social care through data integration with community-based partner organizations. Thrive Local consists of three key functions: a resource directory that provides up-to-date and searchable information on community resources; geographically-based networks of social service organizations; and a technology platform that engages clinicians and staff, members, and employees of community organizations to make rapid, secure referrals between health care providers and social care providers and track the outcomes of those referrals. As the cross-site evaluators, the Colorado (Kelly) and Washington (Cheadle) teams are using a mixed methods approach for the evaluation, combining qualitative data on implementation and user experience with quantitative data on individual member outcomes. The process evaluation includes primary data collection from KP members, providers and staff as well as from community agencies that are part of the partner network to which patients are referred. The outcome evaluation will document changes in social care gaps and project the impact of those changes on longer term health outcomes.


Health Disparities Grant Program Evaluation

I am currently the PI lead the evaluation of The Office of Health Equity’s (OHE) Health Disparities Grant Program (HDGP). HDGP is providing support to agencies across Colorado to address upstream determinants of health (e.g., housing, education) with the goal of improving downstream health outcomes (e.g., access to care, decreased chronic disease rates). Grantees are focusing on changing systems and policies that impact the upstream determinants of health. The goal of the evaluation is to design and implement a utilization-focused evaluation to assess the impact of the initiative on systems and policies, equitable access to resources and health disparities. The main outcomes of the evaluation are documenting shifts in the availability, accessibility and acceptability of social and economic resources.


Dr. Kelly is the PI of an evaluation of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Cancer, Cardiovascular, and Pulmonary Disease grant program. The purpose of the evaluation is to document and assess changes in healthy behaviors (e.g., physical activity, healthy eating, HPV vaccination, self-measured blood pressure) and health outcomes (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension) over a three-year period.


Dr. Kelly is the PI of the evaluation of the Great Outdoors Colorado Generation Wild Initiative. The goal of this evaluation is to assess the impact of the initiative on youth access to the outdoors, value of the outdoors and time spent outdoors. The evaluation will assess the impact of place improvements as well as programs and pathways across all funded communities using a web-based quantitative reporting tool, key informant interviews, and youth surveys. Additionally, the evaluation will use social network analysis to assess the quantity and strength of partner collaborations within community coalitions.