Excellent! You have decided to conduct an evaluation. Although the task may initially seem daunting, an understanding of the steps involved can make the entire process easier to manage. The Planning and Implementing section is designed to walk you through all eight steps of the evaluation process, from the initial pre-planning stages to the final step of improving your program. Each step of the process has its own page (linked below & in the drop-down box above) where you will find a description of what the step involves as well as helpful tips from practitioners and links to relevant resources.
Before you dive head first into the process, however, you may find the following overview of the evaluation process helpful. This description, which explains how the steps fit together, will help you better understand the journey upon which you’re about to embark.
Is beginning your evaluation at Step 1 the appropriate thing to do? It depends on your situation. If you are already collecting data about your program– your evaluation has started! Steps 5 and 6, Collecting and Analyzing Data, list one, but not the only way, of organizing this part of the evaluation process. If you have explicit goals and objectives for your program, it way be appropriate to begin by identifying your evaluation goals and questions, Step 3. Evaluation is a cycle, and the entry point is not set. See what you have in hand, and start there.
We are constantly evaluating things in the world around us, but we usually do so quite informally. We may be curious why something works the way it does, what would make something better, or what we should do differently. Evaluating your program is not all that different, though it will likely be more formal. To make the process easier to understand, MEERA presents evaluation as a series of steps that fit within three phases. These phases and their steps are meant to help you with specific aspects of preparing for and conducting an evaluation. While this may suggest a linear approach, the evaluation process is actually not linear. Instead, it tends to be cyclical, as suggested by the diagram below.
Figure: Phases of Evaluation
Developing a good understanding of how your program works and identifying the resources you have for evaluation generally comes first. Step 1 (Before You Get Started) presents a number of important issues for you to consider before you begin your evaluation, such as working with staff and finding an evaluator. Step 2 (Clarify Program Logic) gets you thinking about the rationale behind your program and what the program is expected to achieve in the short and long-term. As you work through this phase, you will recognize how Steps 1 and 2 are interlinked.
Once you have critically reflected on your program and situation, you can begin to develop your evaluation plan. Step 3 (Set Goals and Indicators) will help you create and clarify your evaluation questions, and as part of Step 4 (Choose Design and Tools) you will identify how to collect data to answer these questions. Similar to Phase 1, these steps interact in a dynamic way. For example, the questions you choose will influence how you design your evaluation. You may also find that some evaluation designs are impractical due to limited time, resources and/or expertise, thus forcing you to re-examine and revise your original questions.
After you have identified the evaluation questions you want to answer, the evaluation design to employ and the data collection instruments to use, you can begin to think about how you will collect (Step 5) and analyze (Step 6) your data and report your results (Step 7). Your sources of data, as well as the amount and type of data you collect will determine the conclusions you are able to draw, which will in turn influence how you should share your findings. If results are unclear or raise new questions, you may need to revisit Phase 2, rethinking your design and tools, and collecting more data.
The final step of evaluation involves using evaluation results to improve the program. This is the most critical and most overlooked step in the evaluation process. Your evaluation results can help you decide to expand successful activities, discontinue or modify those that are not working as well, or take an entirely new approach to achieving a program goal. Findings from one evaluation can even be used to initiate another evaluation. Results may give rise to an improved model of your program’s logic, generating new evaluation questions, and helping to kick off another cycle of evaluation and program development, leading your program to achieve greater success.