Program evaluation is the systematic collection of information about
the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs to
allow informed judgments about program improvement, program
effectiveness, and decisions about future programming. The
three primary purposes of evaluation are program planning,
program development, and program accountability. There is
a multitude of evaluation study approaches, including complex,
multi faceted approaches. A recent article in New Directions
for Evaluation listed twenty-two widely used models.
Most commonly used by the
Program Evaluation and Improvement Staff (PEIS) are formative evaluations conducted
by internal FSIS staff which are intended to assist program
managers to refine and improve their programs. "Process"
evaluation aims to describe how the program is actually
functioning; "normative" evaluation aims to determine the extent
to which programs are implemented in the way they were meant to
be; 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.
Formative evaluations are conducted during the development
or ongoing implementation of a program with the intent to
improve the program. This process evaluation describes the
programs and its outcomes. In contrast, summative evaluations
are conducted on well-established programs to allow policy
makers to make major decisions on the future of the program.
The type and complexity of an evaluation depends on the
evaluation questions it was designed to answer. For example,
clients may ask one or more of the following kinds of questions,
requiring one or more approaches:
Program Planning Questions
- What is the extent and distribution of the target population?
- What are the needs of the population?
- Is the program planned in such a way as to meet its goals?
Program Monitoring Questions
- Is the program implemented in the ways specified?
- Is the program reaching the intended target group?
- What are the consequences of the program not being implemented as intended?
Impact Assessment Questions
- Is the program effective in meeting its goals?
- Are there exemplary cases of program implementation from which we can learn lessons?
- What are the consequences of the program not reaching its intended goals?
- Is the program having unanticipated effects?
- What is the potential success of a proposed program?
- What course of action has the best potential for success?
Economic Efficiency Questions
- How much does the program cost?
- What are its costs relative to its effectiveness? Is there a way to deliver the program in a more cost-effective manner?
- What are anticipated future costs for the program?
Among the many evaluation approaches available to answer evaluation
questions such as those posed above are:
Case Study Evaluation is a method for learning about a complex instance,
based on a comprehensive understanding obtained by extensive description and
analysis. Most case studies are intended to either illustrate findings
obtained via other techniques or an in-depth description of a critical instance
of unique interest. Case studies can also serve to explore new ideas for later
investigation; to investigate the operations of program operation; to examine cause
and effect conclusions in depth. Multiple case studies can be used in a cumulative
way to assess program effects.
Cost-Benefit and Cost-Effectiveness Evaluations use economic methods to
assess relationships between costs and outcomes of programs, expressed in
monetary terms and the relationships between costs and outcomes, expressed as
costs per unit of outcome achieved.
Evaluation Synthesis is an appropriate method when evaluation questions
have been previously addressed with substantial research. Researchers aggregate
the findings from many individual studies in order to provide a conclusion more
credible than any single study. This approach is most useful when the field of
knowledge has reached an extensive enough state that data are available to make
Prospective Evaluations use methods to deal with forward looking, future-oriented
evaluation questions, in contrast to the retrospective approaches previously discussed
which explore what happened in the past.
Each of these types of evaluations can employ a number of research methods such as
quantitative analysis using program or survey data or qualitative analysis from
observations or interviews.
In addition to developing and implementing evaluation studies, PEIS staff are available to consult on the type of evaluation to undertake and the design of the evaluation. Trained evaluators possess interdisciplinary skills in evaluation, quantitative and qualitative research methods, economics, management, public policy, writing, and interpersonal communication. They can serve as program consultants, group facilitators, observers, statisticians, writers, and trainers.