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Types of Evaluation: Which is right for you?
By / November 19, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...

Because evaluation is so specific to a context, issue, or question, the approach you take to evaluating a particular program or set of activities will vary according to your needs.

Although there are several different types of evaluation, there are two key principles that determine approach. If you are looking to gather information about a program as it is in process, you want what is most often referred to as a formative evaluation. If you want to collect information at the conclusion of a program to determine its effectiveness, you are looking for what is called a summative approach.

What we talk about when we talk about impact

Very often, we hear the words “evaluation” and “impact” used interchangeably. Impact evaluation is a type of evaluation, but it is not the only one. Impact evaluation looks to determine the changes that can be directly attributable to a program or intervention. And as we all know, in the complicated landscape of the kinds of social change work that we are typically looking to evaluate, it is very difficult – if not impossible— to attribute behavioral, attitudinal, or other outcomes directly to a particular program.

What follows is an overview of evaluation models that are frequently referenced in evaluation literature. This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, we hope it will offer a starting point to think about the different approaches you can take to evaluate your program, strategy, or intervention. This list is adapted from various sources, which are referenced at the end of this post.

Evaluation approaches

Formative Evaluation or Needs Assessment Evaluation

When you might use it
• During development of a new program
What it can show
• Identifies areas for improvement
Why it can be useful
• Allows program to be modified before full implementation begins

Summative Evaluation or Outcomes Evaluation

When you might use it
• After program implementation has begun
• At pre-determined intervals of an existing program
• At the conclusion of a program
What it can show
• Degree to which program is having effect on knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors of target population
Why it can be useful
• Effectiveness of program against its stated objectives (at particular milestones)

Process / Monitoring Evaluation

When you might use it
• When program implementation begins
• During operation of existing program
What it can show
• Extent to which program is being implemented as designed
Why it can be useful
• Provides early warning if things are not progressing as planned
• Distinguishes program design (theory of change, logic model) from implementation

Developmental Evaluation

When you might use it
• During implementation of a particularly complex or innovative program
• In conditions of high uncertainty
What it can show
• Emergence – patterns that emerge from interactions from groups of participants
• Dynamic adaptations – extent to which program is affected by interactions between and among participants
Why it can be useful
• Can incorporate “nontraditional” concepts such as non-linearity, uncertainty, rapid cycling, vision-driven (rather that metrics-driven)

Empowerment Evaluation

When you might use it
• To support a community in building evaluation capacity
What it can show
• Community knowledge and assets
Why it can be useful
• Is designed for inclusion, participation, increased capacity, and community ownership


In addition to the evaluation types listed here, you may also encounter approaches such as Utilization-Focused (assumes high degree of stakeholder participation at all stages of evaluation); Theory-Driven (focuses on theoretical rather than methodological issues); Organizational Learning (focuses on the information and learning needs of individuals, teams, and organizations), among others.

The important thing to remember is that evaluation is not a “one size fits all,” and it may be worth some time to consider what model makes the most sense for you – in the context of the question you are trying to answer as well as the resources at hand.

What evaluation approaches have been most useful to you? Are you considering evaluating something for which you are not certain of the right approach?

Email me at: mkimarnold@rifoundation.org

REFERENCES AND SOURCES:

Types of Evaluation
http://www.cdc.gov/std/Program/pupestd/Types%20of%20Evaluation.pdf

Evaluation Approaches & Types
http://toolkit.pellinstitute.org/evaluation-101/evaluation-approaches-types/

Introduction to Evaluation
http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/intreval.php

Evaluation and Types of Evaluation
http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2002/nsf02057/nsf02057_2.pdF

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