Evaluation. What associations does this word bring to mind? Do you see evaluation as an invaluable tool to improve your program? Or do you find it intimidating because you don't know much about it? Regardless of your perspective on evaluation, MEERA is here to help! The purpose of this introductory section is to provide you with some useful background information on evaluation.
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Evaluation is a process that critically examines a program. It involves collecting and analyzing information about a program’s activities, characteristics, and outcomes. Its purpose is to make judgments about a program, to improve its effectiveness, and/or to inform programming decisions (Patton, 1987).
Experts stress that evaluation can:
Improve program design and implementation.
It is important to periodically assess and adapt your activities to ensure they are as effective as they can be. Evaluation can help you identify areas for improvement and ultimately help you realize your goals more efficiently. Additionally, when you share your results about what was more and less effective, you help advance environmental education.
Demonstrate program impact.
Evaluation enables you to demonstrate your program’s success or progress. The information you collect allows you to better communicate your program's impact to others, which is critical for public relations, staff morale, and attracting and retaining support from current and potential funders.
Why conduct evaluations?, approx. 2 minutes
Gus Medina, Project Manager, Environmental Education and Training Partnership
The evaluation experience is likely to be more positive and its results are likely to be more useful if you build evaluation in from the start and make it an on-going activity. For more information on this topic, click here
Evaluations fall into one of two broad categories: formative and summative. Formative evaluations are conducted during program development and implementation and are useful if you want direction on how to best achieve your goals or improve your program. Summative evaluations should be completed once your programs are well established and will tell you to what extent the program is achieving its goals.
Within the categories of formative and summative, there are different types of evaluation:
|Type of Evaluation||Purpose|
|1. Needs Assessment||Determines who needs the program, how great the need is, and what can be done to best meet the need. An EE needs assessment can help determine what audiences are not currently served by programs and provide insight into what characteristics new programs should have to meet these audiences’ needs.|
For more information, Needs Assessment Training uses a practical training module to lead you through a series of interactive pages about needs assessment.
|2. Process or Implementation Evaluation||Examines the process of implementing the program and determines whether the program is operating as planned. Can be done continuously or as a one-time assessment. Results are used to improve the program. A process evaluation of an EE program may focus on the number and type of participants reached and/or determining how satisfied these individuals are with the program.|
|1. Outcome Evaluation||Investigates to what extent the program is achieving its outcomes. These outcomes are the short-term and medium-term changes in program participants that result directly from the program. For example, EE outcome evaluations may examine improvements in participants’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, intentions, or behaviors.|
|2. Impact Evaluation||Determines any broader, longer-term changes that have occurred as a result of the program. These impacts are the net effects, typically on the entire school, community, organization, society, or environment. EE impact evaluations may focus on the educational, environmental quality, or human health impacts of EE programs.|
For additional information on the differences between outcomes and impacts, including lists of potential EE outcomes and impacts, see MEERA's Outcomes and Impacts page.
Which of these evaluations is most appropriate depends on the stage of your program:
Adapted from Norland (2004), Pancer and Westhues (1989) and Rossi et al. (2004).
If you are not clear on what you want to evaluate, consider first reviewing your program based on “best practices” such as the North American Association for Environmental Education (2004) Guidelines for Excellence Series:
You can conduct this review yourself or you can ask another environmental educator to help you. A best practices review is likely to identify program strengths and weaknesses, giving you important insight into what to focus your evaluation on.
A well-planned and carefully executed evaluation will reap more benefits for all stakeholders than an evaluation that is thrown together hastily and retrospectively. Though you may feel that you lack the time, resources, and expertise to carry out an evaluation, learning about evaluation early-on and planning carefully will help you navigate the process.
MEERA provides suggestions for all phases of an evaluation. But before you start, it will help to review the following characteristics of a good evaluation (list adapted from resource formerly available through the University of Sussex, Teaching and Learning Development Unit Evaluation Guidelines and John W. Evans' Short Course on Evaluation Basics):
Making evaluation an integral part of your program means evaluation is a part of everything you do. You design your program with evaluation in mind, collect data on an on-going basis, and use these data to continuously improve your program.
Developing and implementing such an evaluation system has many benefits including helping you to:
better understand your target audiences' needs and how to meet these needs
design objectives that are more achievable and measurable
monitor progress toward objectives more effectively and efficiently
learn more from evaluation
increase your program's productivity and effectiveness
To build and support an evaluation system:
The following resource provides more depth on integrating evaluation into program planning:
Best Practices Guide to Program Evaluation for Aquatic Educators (.pdf)
Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. (2006).
Chapter 2 of this guide, “Create a climate for evaluation,” gives advice on how to fully institutionalize evaluation into your organization. It describes features of an organizational culture, and explains how to build teamwork, administrative support and leadership for evaluation. It discusses the importance of developing organizational capacity for evaluation, linking evaluation to organizational planning and performance reviews, and unexpected benefits of evaluation to organizational culture.
If you want to learn more about how to institutionalize evaluation, check out the following resources on adaptive management. Adaptive management is an approach to conservation management that is based on learning from systematic, on-going monitoring and evaluation, and involves adapting and improving programs based on the findings from monitoring and evaluation.
EMI (Ecosystem Management Initiative). (2004). Measuring Progress: An Evaluation Guide for Ecosystem and Community-Based Projects. School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan. Downloaded September 20, 2006 from: www.snre.umich.edu/ecomgt/evaluation/templates.htm
Patton, M.Q. (1987). Qualitative Research Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers.
Thomson, G. & Hoffman, J. (2003). Measuring the success of EE programs. Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.