Communicating your program evaluation findings effectively

For most of us (even the most seasoned program managers!), writing program evaluation reports can be a daunting task. In this article we look at the three main challenges most report writers face, and how to overcome them.

Challenge 1: writing for a broad distribution network

The usual report-writing mantra of keeping the audience in mind applies equally to program evaluation reports. The problem is that the intended audience for program evaluation reports is often very wide. Here’s how to overcome that:

Confirm your audience early on

Not only will this influence the report’s language and content, but may also influence evaluation methodology, stakeholder engagement and data collection. If your audiences are unusually diverse, you might need different reporting methods to suit their needs.

Identify sensitivities, privacy and confidentiality requirements

The sensitivity of information, privacy and confidentiality requirements may shape the distribution of your report, or require you to produce different versions for different audiences.

Challenge 2: the tricky matter of the ‘findings’ section

Evaluation reports tend to follow a classic report structure of executive summary, introduction, approach, findings and conclusions, followed by recommendations.

Sounds easy enough, right? And for many program managers it is: until you get to the findings section. Many of us are tempted to structure our findings section around our key evaluation questions, leading readers to expect conclusions (or come to their own) too early.

Here’s what to do instead:

  1. Organise the information into discrete topics and themes
  2. Order the topics logically and group them using headings and subheadings
  3. Be ruthless: consider the purpose of the report and exclude any information which is not 100% relevant
  4. Interpret the information in a way that answers the overarching reasons for conducting the evaluation
  5. Save your key evaluation questions for the conclusions section: it’s a neat way to wrap up and ensures that the report addresses each of the key questions.

Challenge 3. Sharing the results

Many program managers forget this penultimate part of the program evaluation journey. And it can be hard to get right: ensuring the right amount of coverage for your findings while managing organisational sensitivities.

Here’s how to do it:

Use your organisation’s existing channels to share evaluation results externally and internally.

Publishing an evaluation report on your organisation’s existing website is one of the easiest ways to share the report with others. Bring attention to the publication by engaging through social media sites such as twitter and LinkedIn.

Remember that you may need to produce the report in different lengths and formats to suit different audiences. Possible formats include summary reports, infographics and multimedia.

You will also need to take precautions to ensure ethics, privacy, confidentiality and organisational or political sensitivities are suitably handled.