Insights

This perspective is brought to you by Keith Fultz, Nacy Fultz, and Maria Rapuano

WHETHER YOU ARE EVALUATING PROCESSES OR OUTCOMES…

Program evaluations can study program processes or outcomes—or both. Process evaluations focus on how and how well program activities are being carried out. Outcome evaluations study program outputs and achievements. The purpose of the evaluation will depend on the type of program, the stage of its implementation, and the needs of decision makers.

EVALUATION DESIGN MATTERS

Regardless of whether the focus is processes or outcomes, you need to be able to trust the evaluation’s findings and recommendations. So how can you trust that an evaluation’s findings and recommendations are valid? The key is to start with a sound evaluation design. Our team uses the five steps recommended by the Government Accountability Office as a starting point for every evaluation:

  1. Clarify program goals and strategies.
  2. Develop relevant and useful evaluation questions that will address the issues and concerns stakeholders have about program performance.
  3. Select an appropriate evaluation method for each evaluation question.
  4. Identify data sources and collection procedures.
  5. Develop data analysis plans that will result in valid conclusions.

For example, Zelos worked with a client to identify accomplishments and outcomes for a large federal program that invests in community initiatives around the country. The program relies on data and evidence to inform program officials on what’s working to revive and improve communities—and what’s not working. The large and dispersed nature of the program makes this a complicated task. Asking the right questions, collecting the right data, and systematically analyzing data using established methods is the only way to know whether the program is on the right path. By using the five steps above, Zelos developed a sound evaluation design that resulted in valid findings and recommendations that met the needs of decision makers.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you want to be able to trust and rely the results of any program evaluations—you must start with the proper design of the evaluation itself. Don’t rush; take some time to get clear at the outset; it will save you time and give you better results. The Zelos Team can train your teams on how to design evaluations; we can also design and conduct independent evaluations for your organization.

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