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What is program evaluation?

A beginners guide

Produced by

Gene Shackman, Ph.D.
Director of The Global Social Change Research Project,  Albany, New York


Free Resources for Program Evaluation:


What is Evaluation?

This is the first in a set of handouts on the key questions about program evaluation.

This handout starts with the first question: What is program evaluation?

People often think of program evaluation as looking to answer this question:

● Does the program work?  And how can it be improved?

However, there are many equally important questions:

● Is the program worthwhile?

● Are there alternatives that would be better?

● Are there unintended consequences?

● Are the program goals appropriate and useful?

That is, an evaluation can help a program improve their services, but can also help ensure that the program is delivering the right services.

See this resource for additional information:

Evaluation 101, Juliana M. Blome
Slides 3 and 4


Evaluation is a systematic assessment.

Evaluations should follow a systematic and mutually agreed on plan.  Plans will typically include the following:

● Determining the goal of the evaluation: What is the evaluation question, what is the evaluation to find out.

● How will the evaluation answer the question: What methods will be used.

● Making the results useful, how will the results be reported so that they can be used by the organization to make improvements.

Additional resources about evaluation:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health. MMWR 1999;48(No. RR-11).


Evaluation is a process.

The process is a continuous feedback loop.  Each step provides information useful in the following steps.

Diagram and information from:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health. MMWR 1999;48(No. RR-11).


The process involves:

● Getting stakeholders (people involved in the program) actively involved in the evaluation.

● Developing a complete understanding of the program.

● Using the knowledge to determine what information is needed and how to gather it.

● Gathering the evidence.

● Interpreting the evidence, making sure it makes sense.

● Using the results, making sure they are useful, getting stakeholders to use them, which depends on stakeholder involvement throughout the evaluation process.

● Following up, continuing communication among all involved, about the evaluation, implementing any recommendations, sharing feedback about the evaluation.

The most recent version of this handout is always at

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