Evaluation involves the systematic assessment of the extent to which programs have been implemented as planned. It further provides tangible evidence that resources put into programs are achieving intended results. In general, evaluation questions fall into these groups:
Implementation: Were your program’s activities put into place as originally intended?
Effectiveness: Is your program achieving the goals and objectives it was intended to accomplish?
Efficiency: Are your program’s activities being produced with appropriate use of resources such as budget and staff time?
Cost-Effectiveness: Does the value or benefit of achieving your program’s goals and objectives exceed the cost of producing them?
Attribution: Can progress on goals and objectives be shown to be related to your program, as opposed to other things that are going on at the same time?
Evaluation research can take a variety of forms, cover a range of issues and activities, and be conducted in response to diverse concerns of program staff, funders, policymakers, and other various stakeholders. As long as the results are meaningful and accurate, evaluation designs can encompass a variety of formats and approaches.
Benefits of Evaluation
Evaluation demonstrates effectiveness. If a program works, its success should be shared with appropriate parties – funders, elected officials, practitioners and the community at large. In addition, evaluation findings can be used by a variety of audiences who are in a position to support continuation of the program being evaluated. Results can be used to solicit funds from other funding sources, to support a request for additional funds to expand the program, or to justify offering the same program in another location.
Evaluation can identify needs for improvement. Program evaluation findings can also identify areas in need of improvement. For instance, research on one part of the program – such as who seeks a service and who doesn’t – allows program administrators to be more strategic about who is targeted and why. And those responsible for the program will be able to say with confidence that changes or improvements they make are directly responsive to research or evaluation findings.
Programs or projects that have been shown to be effective -- or ineffective -- will be of interest to other agencies with the same mission or seeking to approach the same or similar problem. Results show where the program design worked – and where it didn’t – and are therefore of great interest to other agencies of a similar size and in similar environments. Evaluations also reveal lessons learned by program implementers that others can use as a guide when replicating or implementing a program model.
Including Evaluation in Requests for Proposals (RFPs)
Incorporating evaluation into an RFP has many benefits for both the grantor and potential grantees. As a program funder, you want program managers to think about evaluation as an integral part of the program planning and design process. They need to understand that evaluation is not only important to you, but it is mandatory if they want funding. An RFP that clearly lays out the evaluation elements expected of grantees requires them to think from the beginning about the results they are trying to achieve and how their daily program activities contribute to those results. Requiring grantees to document this information for a wider audience also makes them think more precisely not only about what they are doing, but also about how to demonstrate that their program benefits the juveniles it is supposed to serve. For an example, see the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission's FY15 Competitive Grant Announcement for its Drug, Gang, and Violent Crime Control Program.
See the Justice Research and Statistic Association's guide, Incorporating Evaluation Into the Request for Proposal (RFP) Process for further discussion on this topic.
Evaluation Guides and Resources
Below are excellent resources for program and project evaluation: