Program evaluation is a process carried out to assess and determine the extent to which a program is or has been successful. In program evaluation, success can be assessed from various perspectives and three general perspectives are common: process, outcome and impact.
Evaluation has many benefits for program stakeholders including the targeted beneficiaries, funding partners, implementing bodies, etc. Its benefit include:
- It reduces wastage of resources and time on activities and processes that will not help in meeting targeted outcomes
- It assesses whether processes being followed are helpful in meeting the needs of an intervention
- It encourages accountability, transparency and responsibility in the running of programs
- It reduces the risks of resource abuse
- It enables corrective processes to be put in place to serve programs from failure
- It encourages funding bodies to invest in programs
Despite the above important benefits, evaluation, as a process and a phenomenon is poorly understood. It is often perceived as a very complex process that can take a lot of program teams’ time. A better understanding of the concept and process of evaluation can help remove some of these negative conceptions.
Programs are usually carried out using pre-determined processes. These processes might have been pretested for effectiveness in some contexts. In process evaluation the goal is to assess whether these predetermined processes were followed. Qualitative and quantitative research designs can be applied to assess the levels of compliance to a process, the process’ effectiveness, acceptability among others. The primary goal, however, remains conformity or compliance to the set process.
In outcome evaluation, focus is on whether the programme achieved its outcomes. The goals of an intervention preferably are set at the beginning. They can, however, change before the end of the program. In a structured program, i.e. the one where there is adequate structural planning before implementation, program success indicators are generally set for measuring an impact. For example, in a poverty alleviation project in a rural community, indicators set might include: the number of people who benefitted from the program, the change in average daily/monthly income per household, changes in numbers of households with access to clean water, etc.
There is a thin line between outcome evaluation and impact evaluation. Outcome evaluation puts emphasis on results just like impact evaluation. However, impact assessment is done to assess the degree to which a program had been able to bring about desired change. It is possible for a program to achieve its goals and fail to have a desired impact. Impact evaluation, therefore, aims to bring out the actual effects of the program on the desired change regardless of outcome.
What type of evaluation to do?
In most cases, program evaluation will consist of all the three types of evaluations discussed above. In any program, we are usually interested in whether it had had the right impact, had met its goals and whether the right processes were followed during its implementation. Assessing all the three facets above will help to identify what needs to be corrected for a project to reach its goals and for these goals to represent an impact on a targeted society.
What types of programs can be evaluated?
Basically, all types of program can be evaluated under one or more of the three types of evaluation discussed above. These include:
- Educational programmes
- Health programmes
- Poverty alleviation programmes
- Environmental sustainability
- Behavioural change programmes
- Economic programmes, among others
Depending on the type of programme, its stakeholder interests, various methods can be used to evaluate the process, impact and outcome of these on targeted populations. These methods fall within the ambit of primary research. Qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method research strategies can be applied to meet the evaluation goals of different programmes.