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. 

Understanding the purpose of evaluating your program boils down to a few key questions. You might be evaluating to see if your program is doing well, if it’s costing more than it should, or how it’s affecting the people you’re trying to help. The push to start this evaluation could come from the people who fund your program, community leaders, or your own team members who want to make sure the program is on the right track.

Once you have the results from your evaluation, the leaders of your program, the people who fund it, and community leaders can use this info. They might need it to decide whether to keep the program running, to make sure the money is being used right, or to help everyone involved do a better job. In short, you’re finding out if your program is useful, if it’s reaching the right people, and if it’s something that should keep going or needs some big changes.

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.

Stakeholders can range from internal staff and board members to community leaders, program participants, and external figures such as funders, policymakers, and legislators. Each stakeholder group brings a combination of unique assets – information, vision, experience, context, resources, and influential connections – that can significantly enrich the evaluation process.

To harness these strengths effectively, we suggest a tailored approach, assigning clear roles within the project, from planning and development to providing ongoing feedback throughout the evaluation lifecycle. Stakeholders can contribute at every stage, from the inception of the evaluation plan through the collection and analysis of data, and the dissemination of findings.

As you reach out to these individuals or groups, consider the most strategic method of invitation and recruitment, keeping in mind the time and resources available to them as well as their potential utility to the evaluation process.

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