Last week, I talked about formative and summative evaluations. Formative and summative evaluation roles can help you prioritize what evaluations you do when. I was then reminded of another approach to viewing evaluation that relates to prioritizing evaluations that might also be useful.
When I first started in this work, I realized that I could view evaluation in three parts–process, progress, product. Each part could be conducted or the total approach could be used. This approach provides insights to different aspects of a program. It can also provide a picture of the whole program. Deciding on which part to focus is another way to prioritize an evaluation.
Process evaluation captures the HOW of a program. Process evaluation has been defined as the evaluation that assesses the delivery of the program (Scheirer, 1994). Process evaluation identifies what the program is and if it is delivered as intended both to the “right audience” and in the “right amount”. The following questions (according to Scheirer) can guide a process evaluation:
- Why is the program expected to produce its results?
- For what types of people may it be effective?
- In what circumstances may it be effective?
- What are the day-to-day aspects of program delivery?
Progress evaluation captures the FIDELITY of a program–that is, did the program do what the planners said would be done in the time allotted? Progress evaluation has been very useful when I have grant activities and need to be accountable for the time-line.
Product evaluation captures a measure of the program’s products or OUTCOMES. Sometimes outputs are also captured and this is fine. Just keep in mind that outputs may be (and often are) necessary; they are not sufficient for demonstrating the impact of the program. A product evaluation is often summative. However, it can also be formative, especially if the program planners want to gather information to improve the program rather than to determine the ultimate effectiveness of the program.
This framework may be useful in helping Extension professionals decide what to evaluate and when. It may help determine what program needs a process, progress, or product evaluation. Trying to evaluate all your program all at once often defeats being purposeful in your evaluation efforts and often leads to results that are confusing, invalid, and/or useless. It makes sense to choose carefully what evaluation to do when–that is, prioritize.