A faculty member asked me to provide evaluation support for a grant application.  Without hesitation, I agreed.

I went to the web site for funding to review what was expected for an evaluation plan.  What was provided was their statement about why evaluation is important.

Although I agree with what is said in that discussion, I think we have a responsibility to go further.  Here is what I know.

Extension professionals evaluate programs because there needs to be some evidence that the imputs for the program–time, money, personnel, materials, facilities, etc.–are being used advantageously, effectively.  Yet, there is more to the question, “Why evaluate” than accountability. (Michael Patton talks about the various uses to which evaluation findings can be put–see his book on Utilization Focused Evaluation.) Programs are evaluated to determine if people are satisfied, if their expectations were met, whether the program was effective in changing something.

This is what I think.  None of what is stated above addresses the  “so what” part of “why evaluate”.  I think that answering this question (or attempting to) is a compelling reason to justify the effort of evaluating.  It is all very well and good to change people’s knowledge of a topic; it is all very well and good to change people’s behavior related to that topic; and it is all very well and good to have people intend to change (after all, stated intention to change is the best predictor of actual change).  Yet, it isn’t enough.  Being able to answer the “so what” question gives you more information.   And doing that–asking and answering the “so what” question–makes evaluation an everyday activity.   And, who knows.  It may even result in world peace.

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