Hi everyone–it is the third week in April and time for a TIMELY TOPIC! (I was out of town last week.)
Recently, I was asked: Why should I plan my evaluation strategy in the program planning stage? Isn’t it good enough to just ask participants if they are satisfied with the program?
Good question. This is the usual scenario: You have something to say to your community. The topic has research support and is timely. You think it would make a really good new program (or a revision of a current program). So you plan the program.
Do you plan the evaluation at the same time? The keyed response is YES. The usual response is something like, “Are you kidding?” No, not kidding. When you plan your program is the time to plan your evaluation.
Unfortunately, my experience is that many (most) faculty when planning or revising a program fail to think about evaluating that program at the planning stage. Yet, it is at the planning stage that you can clearly and effectively identify what you think will happen and what will indicate that your program has made a difference. Remember the evaluative question isn’t, “Did the participants like the program?” The evaluative question is, “What difference did my program make in the lives of your participants–and if possible in the economic, environmental, and social conditions in which they live.” That is the question you need to ask yourself when you plan your program. It also happens to be the evaluative question for the long term outcomes in a logic model.
If you ask this question before you implement your program, you may find that you can not gather data to answer it. This allows you to look at what change (or changes) can you measure. Can you measure changes in behavior? This answers the question, “What difference did this program make in the way the participants act in the context presented in the program?” Or perhaps, “What change occurred in what the participants know about the program topic?” These are the evaluative questions for the short and intermediate term outcomes in a logic model. (As an a side, there are evaluative questions that can be asked at every stage of a logic model.)
By thinking about and planning for evaluation at the PROGRAM PLANNING STAGE,you avoid an evaluation that gives you data that cannot be used to support your program. A program you can defend with good evaluation data is a program that has staying power. You also avoid having to retrofit your evaluation to your program. Retrofits, though often possible, may miss important data that could only be gathered by thinking of your outcomes ahead of the implementation.
Years ago (back when we beat on hollow logs), evaluations typically asked questions that measured participant satisfaction. You probably still want to know if participants are satisfied with your program. Satisfaction questionnaires may be necessary; they are no longer sufficient. They do not answer the evaluative question, “What difference did this program make?”