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"

Not sure how to monitor your program’s performance?

Don’t know where to start to judge whether your program is on track?

A monitoring and evaluation framework is an integral part of understanding how well your program is performing.

It helps you set out and record the activities you need to complete to assess your program’s performance over time to assess whether your program is on the right track.

We created this M&E framework guide to help you build your own. The guide gives you the right structure and useful explanation of what is typically required in each section

Download our comprehensive guide to build an M&E framework for your own program today.