The first step in any project is to develop a plan for the work to be done. The
plan for an evaluation project is called a "design" and is a particularly vital
step to provide an appropriate assessment. A good design offers an opportunity to
maximize the quality of the evaluation, helps minimize and justify the time and
cost necessary to perform the work, and increases the strength of the key findings
and recommendations by ensuring that threats to valid results are minimized.
When you wish to have your program evaluated, be prepared to engage in this planning
process to ensure that your questions will be answered and your needs met.
An evaluation design consists of the evaluation questions under study, the
methodological strategies for answering these questions, a data collection
plan that anticipates and addresses problems that may be encountered, an
analysis plan that will ensure that questions are answered appropriately, and
a product description (usually a report). Taking the time to adequately define
the evaluation questions is perhaps the most important task, one the evaluator
will need to perform with the client to ensure that the client's needs and
concerns are met. Selecting an appropriate methodological approach is probably
the most important scientific task the evaluator will perform, taking into
consideration resource and time constraints as well as scientific issues.
Providing a product description shows the client what to expect from the
evaluation and ensures that results will be useful. Each of these sections
is expanded upon below.
Evaluators help clients develop the "correct" questions for study, because
how questions are posed has immense implications for the evaluation approach
taken, the data collected, etc.-in other words, for the entire evaluation
design. This is so because evaluators want to properly answer client
questions. Therefore, evaluators will work with clients to ensure that
the wording of questions accurately reflects what the client really wishes
to know. To ensure optimal results, you, as the client, must devote time
during this phase of the evaluation.
There are various general types of evaluations to meet one or more basic
client needs. "Normative" evaluation aims to determine the extent to which
programs are implemented in the way they were meant to be; "process" evaluation
aims to describe how the program is actually functioning; and "outcome" or
"impact" evaluation aims to assess what effect the program had.
Evaluators also use the terms "formative" versus "summative"
evaluation to refer to work that focuses on forming/planning/improving a program,
versus assessing the end result or summary effects of the program.
Evaluation questions will fall into these types of categories and evaluators
will ensure that the methodological strategy selected will allow an answer based
on the type of question. For example, merely describing the program implementation
requires a simple, less scientifically rigorous approach than attempting to claim
that the program had a certain effect on the intended targets. The latter requires
a method that assesses changes over time, and perhaps comparisons among targets or
control groups who did not participate in the program. Evaluators are trained to
recognize what sort of approaches various types of evaluation questions require.
Data Collection and Analysis
From the evaluation questions, the evaluator will determine the kinds of information
needed, the sources of this information (e.g., employees, customers, clients),
methods of collecting the information (e.g., questionnaires, interviews, observations),
and the timing and frequency of data collection. All the while, the evaluator will
keep in mind the resources available to collect information, and the time period in
which this information is needed, adjusting the plan accordingly. To be truly
efficient, any plan will require only the work actually needed to complete a project.
So it is with the data collection and analysis sections of the evaluation plan.
Only those data needed to address the evaluation questions should be collected and
a plan will be ready to manipulate and use those data. You, as the client, would
not be expected to devote time to this phase.
Not only will evaluators know exactly what data are needed and be ready to
analyze them, but they will also have a plan for presentation of those data
and results that will simply and accurately report the answers to the evaluation
questions. The design will show the product plans, customized for various
audiences if necessary.
An in-depth evaluation design as described above is the responsibility of the
PEIS evaluation staff to create and use. Once this in-depth evaluation plan has
been prepared, PEIS provides a short, summary evaluation plan for client review
to ensure that the plan captures their concerns and meets their needs and interests.
It includes the following components: evaluation purpose, study questions, methodology,
and deliverables. The deliverables section makes it clear what product is expected
from the evaluation and when.