What is a Program Evaluation?
We perform formative evaluations during program development and implementation, which can help developers determine the current state of their services/program, solidify and clarify program goals, and determine the most effective way to deliver a program. Needs Assessments, a type of formative evaluation, are a service we often provide for schools and organizations. A Needs Assessment can determine who is and is not being served by a program, how great the need is, and how a program can be improved or how an organization can create new programs and services to better serve needs. Process evaluations also fall under the formative evaluation category. Process evaluations typically focus on program implementation and help determine whether a program is operating as planned.
The second type of program evaluation is a summative evaluation. Typically, researchers perform summative evaluations on well-established programs, with the intent of measuring the extent to which the program achieved specific goals. Summative evaluations often include looking at whether a program is achieving outcomes (short-term to medium-term goals), and whether the program is making an impact (longer-term goals). In many cases, our program evaluations use a combination of formative and summative procedures, and evaluate the process of implementing a program (Evidence of Implementation) and the outcomes of the program (Evidence of Impact).
Why do a Program Evaluation?
One of the main reasons to include evaluation is to obtain reliable information to improve your program and services to your clients. Evaluation can help you understand if your program works and why it works. Citing positive evidence from a prior program evaluation can improve the chances of your program receiving future funding. Evaluation can help you think through the theory of action for your program and can help you create more meaningful and measurable objectives and goals. The process of performing an evaluation can involve more key stakeholders in your program, can create more buy-in, and can help attract new funders. Evaluation provides you a mechanism for obtaining valuable and honest feedback from program participants, which allows you to identify and fix program problems quickly. A strong evaluation can provide a way of letting your participants know how the program is working and can provide information you can use to determine future strategies and to set longer-term goals. A program evaluation report is often used to disseminate important information about your program and to document successes. The following simple tips can help you when planning your program evaluation.
5 Tips for Planning a Successful Program Evaluation
- Make evaluation an integral part of your program. Use the evaluation to better understand the needs of participants, to design goals that are achievable and measureable, and to document progress.
- Work with evaluators on the evaluation design prior to submitting the grant. Especially if you are applying for a grant that requires an evaluation as the quality of your evaluation design often influences selection of grantees.
- Combine your evaluation with strategic planning around the goals, objectives, and vision of your program. Thinking through how to do an evaluation inherently helps organizations solidify a program’s theory of change, and through the process of goal setting, it helps organizations identify what type of data to collect, and how to analyze and use the information.
- Revisit and update your evaluation plan. This will help ensure that you are on track, changing unsuccessful strategies, and are documenting progress along the way.
- Work with your evaluator on how best to disseminate the findings on a periodic basis. This allows you to promote program successes and will help program participants see the program as responsive to their feedback.
- Patton, M.Q. (1987). Qualitative Research Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers.
- Wells, M. (2013). Why do evaluation? Grants Northwest. Downloaded September 25, 2013 from http://www.grantsnorthwest.com/why-do-evaluation/
- Zint, M. (2013). Evaluation: What is it and why do it? School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan. Downloaded September 25, 2013 from http://meera.snre.umich.edu/plan-an-evaluation/evaluation-what-it-and-why-do-it#make