Most grant funders require periodic program evaluations to ensure the effectiveness of the program being funded. Basically, an evaluation is a review of program activities to see that they are being carried out with fidelity and that they are having an effect on the targeted community. An evaluation is generally submitted to the funder as a series of quarterly or annual reports. Your evaluation plan will be part of the grant application. So, long before you’re awarded funds, you’ll need to develop your evaluation plan. Here are just a few things to include in your plan that will make conducting the required evaluations much easier.
Decide who will conduct the evaluation
Depending on the complexity and size of the program that will be evaluated, you may need three or more people involved in the evaluation process.
- Project Director: For smaller projects, the Project Director can usually conduct all of the evaluation activities.
- Independent External Evaluator: Many larger grants require that an independent external evaluator who can design the data collection tools and then analyze the data that is collected.
- Data Collection Specialist: Larger grant funded projects may also need a data collection specialist to assist the evaluator in collecting and analyzing the evaluation data. This person is often responsible for making sure that data is tracked and collected from surveys, focus groups, archival sources, etc.
Make sure you have baseline data
Baseline data is one of the most overlooked elements in a program evaluation plan. Without baseline data, which is an indicator of the current situation, you won’t be able to track the impact of your program. Baseline data can be survey or focus group data that your organization has collected itself or it can from publically available data sources such as the U.S. Census, Department of Labor, Substance and Mental Health Services Administration, and State Departments of Education. Whatever the source of your data, make sure it’s less than one year old, unless there is no other data available.
Set your goals and objectives, and how you’ll measure them
Once you know your starting point from the baseline data, you can determine what type of growth or decline you’d like to see in the data. Your stated goals and objectives should always identify and build on the baseline data.
Your goals and objectives will help you determine the best methods for measuring them. You’ll need to decide:
- The best data collection tools to track progress. Will you conduct a yearly survey? Will you look at new data from government organizations? Or will you use anecdotal evidence from focus groups or interviews?
- The frequency of data collection. Annually, bi-annually, quarterly, or monthly? This all depends on your goals and the type of progress you’re trying to demonstrate.
- What you’re comparing. To show that your program is having a measurable impact you need to demonstrate that those not receiving the benefit of your program aren’t making the same gains. Before you launch your program, determine who or what will serve as your comparison group. For example, you could use another similar school or district’s attendance data to show that your program is reducing the number of absentees for students in your district.
Program evaluations may seem like just a lot of paperwork but in reality they are your best method to know whether your program is effective or if you need to adjust things so that you have the depth of impact that you desire. Resource Associates can help you minimize the amount of time that your staff will have to devote to the required paperwork, data collection, and reporting. Learn more….