Best Education Practices
Developing an evaluation strategy is an important part of the planning process. Also see Use BEPs > Plan >Evaluate
Evaluation is the systematic collection of information about activities, characteristics, and outcomes of projects to make judgments about the project, improve effectiveness, and/or inform decisions about future programming (adapted from Patton, 1987). Evaluation is not merely the accumulation and summary of data and information about a project. It provides managers with well-documented and considered evidence to support the decision-making process.
Project evaluation serves two general purposes:
- To determine the project’s merit (Does it work?)
- To determine the project’s worth (Do we need it?).
Additionally, evaluation documents project (and program) accomplishments. If the project has been designed properly with well-articulated objectives that specify what must be accomplished, to what degree, and within what time period, the evaluation can determine whether or not the objectives are being met and why a project is or is not meeting its objectives. The most common reason for conducting a project evaluation is the desire to understand, in a systematic way, what is and is not working in a project.
Additional benefits include:
- Participant Benefits –Identify the degree to which participants benefit directly, short-term and long-term, from the experiences or services.
- Project Improvement – Identify project strengths and weaknesses. Map out the relationships among project components.
- Public Relations – Data can be used to promote the products and services of the project. Statements based on evaluation results will be viewed as more substantial and justifiable.
- Funding – Grant managers frequently require the implementation of a comprehensive, outcomes-based evaluation. Evaluation results are often helpful in determining if a project should be continued, scaled backed, discontinued, or enhanced.
- Improved Delivery – Help clarify the purposes of the project, allowing decision-makers to examine project components against well-thought-out criteria.
- Capacity Building – Engaging staff, volunteers, and stakeholders in the design and implementation of an evaluation provides opportunities for skill building and learning.
- Clarifying Project Theory –The evaluation provides an opportunity to revise the project theory – how things work or how people learn or even how organizations change.
- Taking Stock – Evaluation provides an opportunity to document where the project has been and where it is going, and consider whether the project is doing what its designers hoped it would do. Taking stock is more than accumulating information about the project, it is learning through the project.
National Science Foundation. 2002. The 2002 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation. Washington, DC: NSF Division of Research, Evaluation and Communication.
National Science Foundation. OERL: Online Evaluation Resource Library, http://oerl.sri.com/home.html
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2009. Designing Education Projects: A Comprehensive Approach to Needs Assessment, Project Planning and Implementation, and Evaluation. 2nd Ed. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Education and Sustainable Development.
Simmons, B. & E. McCrea. 2004b. Nonformal Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence. Washington, D.C.: North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).
Zint, M. 2006. My Environmental Education Evaluation Resource Assistant. Ann Arbor: University of MI. http://meera.snre.umich.edu
* This evaluation overview is adapted from NOAA, 2009, as originally written by Bora Simmons (2004).