A colleague made a point last week that I want to bring to your attention.  The comment made it clear that when a planning program it is important to think about how to determine what difference the program is making at the beginning of the program, not at the end.

Over the last two years, I’ve alluded to the fact that retrofitting evaluation, while possible, is not ideal.  Granted, sometimes programs are already in place and it is important to report the difference the program made, so evaluation needs to be retrofitted.  Sometimes programs have been in place a long time and need to show long term outcomes (even if they are called impacts).  In cases like that, yes, evaluation needs to be retrofitted.  What this colleague was talking about was a NEW program; one that has never been presented before.

There are lots of ways to get the answer to the question, “What difference is this program making?”  We are not going to talk about methods today, though.  We are going to talk about programs and how programs relate to evaluation.

When I start to talk about evaluation with a faculty member, I ask them what do they expect to happen.  If they understand the program theory, they can describe what outcome is expected.  This is when I pull out the model below.

This model shows the logical linkage between what is expected (outcomes) and what was done to whom (outputs) with what resources (inputs), if you follow the arrow right to left.  If, however, you follow the arrow left to right, you see what resources you need to conduct what activities to whom to expect what outcomes.  Each box (inputs, outputs, outcomes) has an evaluative activity that accompanies it.  In the situation, a needs assessment is the evaluative activity.  Here you are evaluating how to determine what needs to be changed between what is and what should be.  In the resources, you can do a variety of activities; specifically, you can determine if you had enough.  You can also do a cost analysis (there are several).  You can also do a process evaluation.  In outputs, you can determine if you did what you said you would do in the time you said you would do it and with the target audience.  I have always called this a progress evaluation.  In outcomes, you actually determine what difference the program made in the lives of the target audience–for teaching purposes, I have called this a product evaluation.  Here, you want to know if what they know is different; what they do is different; and what the conditions in which they work, live, and play are different.  You do that by thinking first what will the program do.


Now this is all very well and good–if you have some idea about what the specific and  measurable outcomes are.  Sometimes you won’t know this because the program has never been done before in quite the way you are doing it OR because the program is developing as you provide it.  (I’m sure there is a third reason–there always is–only I can’t think of one as I type.)

This is why planning evaluation when you are planning the program is important.


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