Evaluation is a periodic, systematic, in-depth analysis of program performance to assist decision making. It relies on data generated through monitoring activities as well as information obtained from other sources (e.g., studies, research, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, surveys etc.). Evaluations are often (but not always) conducted with the assistance of external evaluators. Evaluation skills are useful to have in a remote or rural practice setting as they allow you to ensure you are delivering services in the most appropriate and effective way.
The main objectives of program evaluation are:
- To inform decisions on operations, policy, or strategy related to ongoing or future program interventions
- To demonstrate accountability to decision-makers (donor and other program stakeholders). It is expected that improved decision-making and accountability will lead to better results and more efficient use of resources.
Other objectives of evaluation can include:
- Enable corporate learning and contribute to the body of knowledge on what works and what does not work and why
- Verify and/or improve program quality and management
- Identify successful strategies for extension/expansion/replication
- Modify unsuccessful strategies
- Measure effects/benefits of program and project interventions
- Give stakeholders the opportunity to have a say in program output and quality
- Build capacity of program participants, managers and other agency staff
- Justify/validate program to donors, partners and other constituencies.
Types of Evaluation
There are different evaluation types, or approaches, that can be employed at different stages during the life of a project or program. Some of these include:
The very first decision in the development of a program is 'Should a program be implemented?' If so, 'What type of program is required?'. To answer these questions, the need for the program must be assessed. This type of evaluation activity is called needs assessment.
Once the needs of particular groups are well established, various program concepts may emerge. The next question that must be posed is 'Is our program idea feasible?' This is often called feasibility analysis.
Early in the implementation phase, it is important to check the health of the program and to answer questions such as: 'Is implementation consistent with the way the program was planned?' and 'How can the program be improved?'. This is often called interactive evaluation. This type of evaluation focuses on what the program does and for whom.
For well established programs monitoring evaluation is undertaken to 'keep a finger on the pulse' of a program to ensure it is reaching targeted populations and performing well. The type of evaluation that occurs during program implementation is also referred in other literature as process evaluation.
At program completion, or once the program is well established, outcome evaluation is used to assess the impact the program is having, or has had. In-depth evaluation of program effectiveness, impact and sustainability ensures that lessons on good strategies and practices are available for designing the next program cycle. This type of evaluation examines the changes that occurred as a result of your program and whether it is having the intended effect. In other literature this type of evaluation falls under the impact form of evaluation.
Program evaluation should be an integral part of program management for the availability of timely evaluation information to inform decision-making and ensure the Program Management is able to demonstrate accountability to its stakeholders. The plan for process, outcome and impact evaluation should be built into your overall program plan prior to its actual launch. While it is never too late to evaluate a program, you should plan your evaluation as early as you can.
In planning evaluation activities, decisions should be made in advance about:
- WHY: the purpose of the evaluations, including who will use the evaluation findings and how
- WHAT: the main objectives of the evaluation and the questions it should address
- HOW: the data sources and collection methods to be used in the evaluations
- WHO: who will undertake the evaluations: what expertise is required? Which evaluations should project stakeholders undertake (an internal evaluation)? Which should be conducted with the assistance of external consultants (national and/or international) What should be the extent of stakeholder involvement?
- WHEN: the timing of each evaluation so that their results in each case or in combination can be used to take important program related decisions
- RESOURCES: the budget required to implement the evaluation plan.
Evaluations can cover entire programs; program components; thematic areas such as gender, capacity building strategies and other management issues within the program; and innovative or pilot projects.
Evaluation & You
- Are programs or projects evaluated in your workplace? If so, what type of evaluation is used? What has the evaluation found? How do these findings influence practice?
- How could you be involved in the evaluation of projects of programs in your workplace? What projects or programs could be evaluated? What would be the benefit of evaluation?
- Planning and Evaluation Wizard
- Free Resources for Program Evaluation and Social Research Methods
- Planning a Program Evaluation
- A Basic Guide to Program Evaluation
- Program Evaluation Methods: Measurement and attribution of program results
- Evaluation Research: An Overview.
- Knowlton LW, Phillips CC. The logic model guidebook. Better strategies for great results. Sage Publications Inc; 2009.
- Evaluating health promotion prpgrams. Valente TW. Oxford University Press; 2002.
- McKenzie JF, Neiger BL, Thakeray R. Planning, Implementing and Evaluating Helath Promotion programs. Pearson-Cummings; 2005.