Program evaluation: How to bridge the gap between theory and practice

The dark art of program evaluation

Program evaluation can be daunting for program managers approaching it for the first time.

Rather than being given clear guidance on the how-to’s of program evaluation, newcomers are often expected to deduce program evaluation techniques from dry academic texts hidden behind a wall of baffling jargon.

It’s no wonder that program managers often find program evaluation frustrating to engage with. What program manager has the time to decipher such dark arts, when they have programs to run?

But the benefits of program evaluation are huge; all it needs is for it to be presented in a more practical way. Here at Grosvenor we’ve been looking at the best ways to do that.

Why program evaluation matters

At the end of the day, what matters to a program manager is knowing how well their program is performing – so they can continuously improve performance and stay on top of emerging issues.

Program evaluation provides the tools, techniques and thinking to help them do just that.

Detangling program evaluation

So there’s no doubt that program evaluation is an essential ingredient for successful programs – not to mention successful program management careers.

But in order to be really useful, program evaluation needs to be packaged in a more appealing way. We believe program evaluation needs to be presented in easily digestible chunks, using straightforward language and giving practical guidance that clearly bridges the gap between theory and practice.

Detangler Number One: Make the benefits of program evaluation clear

Program evaluation has immense value to offer to program managers. But unless you are able to easily convey the value of program evaluation, the opportunity to reap these benefits is lost.

Below are the top four benefits that program evaluation typically delivers to an organisation: you can use them the next time you need to convince someone of the benefits!

  1. Helps you to identify the most significant problems and priorities your program faces
  2. Ensures policies and programs are fit-for-purpose
  3. Helps program managers deliver excellent performance management
  4. Provides a solid framework for making robust, evidence-based decisions

Detangler Number Two – Use plain English

Program evaluation, like most professions, comes with a broad range of jargon that is often nothing short of indecipherable to the outsider.

If we want program evaluation to be understood and embraced by everyone, we need to open up the conversation. Plain English, a practical focus and consistent use of terminology will help to break down this language barrier.

Detangler Number Three – Explain the process simply and systematically

Program managers need to be empowered to use program evaluation tools and techniques in the day-to-day management of their programs.

But widespread, high-quality use of program evaluation will remain a pipedream unless it can be explained simply and with step-by-step guidance that takes minutes to digest, rather than days.

Of course, program evaluation theory is still important, but not at the expense of the nuts-and-bolts information needed for implementation. Let’s focus more on the how-to, and use program evaluation theory to illustrate the practical, hands-on information that program managers are crying out for.

Here’s how to be a program evaluation action hero:

  • Simplify complex concepts into clear principles and benefits
  • Use clear language that everyone understands
  • Focus on delivering actionable insights that can be applied immediately.