Building evidence

Why evaluate a program?

It is not easy knowing whether a program is working as planned, or if it needs improvements or adaptations. Like using a recipe to make a dish, we need to document what ingredients we will need and what steps we need to follow.  In program evaluation, documenting your work allows you to see if the “ingredients and steps” of your program are working, or if they need adjustments. Unlike a recipe, evaluation allows you to understand how effective your program is, program strengths and weaknesses, its cost-effectiveness, opportunities to expand, and whether the community might be better served by another program. This is valuable information when you need to apply for new or renewed funding.

What is my purpose in evaluating my program?

The reasons for conducting evaluation can be diverse and include both internal and external factors. When you plan to evaluate a program it is important to clearly identify the reasons why you are collecting information about the program. This will inform your evaluation activities. Table.1 consists of a series of questions that offer guidance in identifying the purpose for evaluating your program.

Table.1 Reasons to evaluate your program
Questions Reasons
What are reasons to evaluate? Improve the program
Determine if the cost exceeds the benefits
Impact on the community, etc
Who made the request? Foundation or other funding entities
Community leaders
Board of directors
Internal Staff
Who will use the final results? Program director
Board of directors
Foundation or other funding entities
Community leaders
What do you want to find out? Impact of program
Number of people who benefited
Sustainability of program
Suitable implementation and/or need for adaptation
Who will receive the results? Board of directors
Foundation or other funding entities
Community leaders
Other allied organizations
Policymakers
How will the results be utilized? Modify the program
Justify continued financing
Determine priorities
Promote staff development by improving quality of skills/interactions with leaders, participants, community
Assist in prioritizing resources by identifying program components (ingredients) that are more effective or critical

Who should I include in conducting evaluation activities?

Another essential element of evaluation work is engaging other people who can support your evaluation process. We usually refer to them as the stakeholders.  Stakeholders can be members of your community, members of your organization, or people who have connections with the communities you serve.  To help you to identify the key stakeholders of your program we suggest the following steps:

  1. Start by brainstorming a list of potential stakeholders in the community and in the organization.
  2. Consider reviewing the questions on the following table to narrow the list of stakeholders.
Table. 2 Stakeholder engagement
Stakeholder engagement Examples
Who cares about the Program? Internal staff
Board of directors
Community leaders
Participants
Funders
Policymakers/legislators
Others
What do they bring to the evaluation Process? Information
Vision
Context
Experience
Resources
Connections & influences
How are you going to reach out to them? Assign to the project
Invitation
Recruit
How are they going to be involved? Planning and development
Support role (e.g.,collecting data)
Providing feedback to the report or throughout the process
In which phase of the process are they going to be involved? From the beginning to the end: develop the plan, collecting data, analyzing the data, etc.
As needed: specific tasks in the collecting or sharing information.
At the end: learning about the program.
Considerations Time and resources
Availability & utility

In the following section–How do I start?–we will explain in detail the first steps in conducting an evaluation.