What is program evaluation?

What is program evaluation?

As program managers, we all know the importance of program evaluation to the successful governance and performance of our programs: not just so we can understand whether our program has achieved its objectives, but also so we know what’s working, and what isn’t.

But for many of us, the art of program evaluation can seem a bit of a mystery. What is it and what is it for? More importantly, how do I do it well?

So what is program evaluation?

Good question!

As with so many things, the best way to understand program evaluation is to understand its purpose, which is to inform decisions about a program’s future, by evaluating its appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency.

Below are the types of questions we typically use as a starting point:

  • Is the program a good fit for the problem in hand?
  • Is the program working?
  • Could we achieve the same results for less resources, money or time?

Figure 1: Key questions to determine a program’s appropriateness, efficiency and effectiveness

What is Program Evaluation used for?

Program evaluation – and the questions in the diagram above – can help you make some of program management’s most important decisions, such as:

  • Should the program continue?
  • Are there any changes that can be made to improve the program?

The diagram below shows how program evaluation is used by decision-makers when making tough decisions about the future of a program:

Figure 2: Using appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency in program decision-making

When should I be using program evaluation?

You can use program evaluation at many different stages of the program lifecycle: wherever you need to assess its effectiveness or make significant decisions. Below are some examples of the different program evaluation approaches and when they can be used.

Figure 3: Program evaluation approaches at different stages of the program lifecycle

In a nutshell

Put simply, program evaluation helps you assess the effectiveness, efficiency and appropriateness of a program, to inform evidence-based decision-making about its future. Program evaluation uses a range of different approaches and can be undertaken at any stage of a program’s lifecycle.

DIY Program Evaluation Kit

DIY Program Evaluation Kit

In "Plain English"

One of the challenges that Program Managers face when doing program evaluation is the lack of practical resources explaining the processes and methodologies in plain English.

We compiled this resource to give you this plain English overview.

Whether you yourself are planning to do the evaluation and are just looking for background reading to understand the process or are seeking support from our team, this resource will arm you with a much clearer understanding of what’s involved.