Evaluation research can be defined as a type of study that uses standard social research methods for evaluative purposes, as a specific research methodology, and as an assessment process that employs special techniques unique to the evaluation of social programs.
Evaluation research can be defined as a type of study that uses standard social research methods for evaluative purposes, as a specific research methodology, and as an assessment process that employs special techniques unique to the evaluation of social programs. After the reasons for conducting evaluation research are always defined, the general principles and types are reviewed. Several evaluation methods are then presented, including input measurement, output/performance measurement, impact/outcomes assessment, service quality assessment, process evaluation, benchmarking, standards, quantitative methods, qualitative methods, cost analysis, organizational effectiveness, program evaluation methods, and LIS-centered methods. Other aspects of evaluation research considered are the steps of planning and conducting an evaluation study and the measurement process, including the gathering of statistics and the use of data collection techniques. The process of data analysis and the evaluation report are also given attention. It is concluded that evaluation research should be a rigorous, systematic process that involves collecting data about organizations, processes, programs, services, and/or resources. Evaluation research should enhance knowledge and decision making and lead to practical applications.
STEPS IN EVALUATION
Evaluation is a set of research methods and associated methodologies with a distinctive purpose. They provide a means to judge actions and activities in terms of values, criteria and standards. At the same time evaluation is also a practice that seeks to enhance effectiveness in the public sphere and policy making. In order to improve as well as judge, there is a need to explain what happens and would have to be done differently for different outcomes to be achieved. It is in this explanatory mode that evaluation overlaps most directly with mainstream social science.
The Goals of Evaluation
The generic goal of most evaluations is to provide “useful feedback” to a variety of audiences including sponsors, donors, client-groups, administrators, staff, and other relevant constituencies. Most often, feedback is perceived as “useful” if it aids in decision-making. But the relationship between an evaluation and its impact is not a simple one — studies that seem critical sometimes fail to influence short-term decisions, and studies that initially seem to have no influence can have a delayed impact when more congenial conditions arise. Despite this, there is broad consensus that the major goal of evaluation should be to influence decision-making or policy formulation through the provision of empirically-driven feedback.
‘Evaluation strategies’ means broad, overarching perspectives on evaluation. They encompass the most general groups or “camps” of evaluators; although, at its best, evaluation work borrows eclectically from the perspectives of all these camps. Four major groups of evaluation strategies are discussed here.
Scientific-experimental models are probably the most historically dominant evaluation strategies. Taking their values and methods from the sciences — especially the social sciences — they prioritize on the desirability of impartiality, accuracy, objectivity and the validity of the information generated. Included under scientific-experimental models would be: the tradition of experimental and quasi-experimental designs; objectives-based research that comes from education; econometrically-oriented perspectives including cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis; and the recent articulation of theory-driven evaluation.
Types of Evaluation
There are many different types of evaluations depending on the object being evaluated and the purpose of the evaluation. Perhaps the most important basic distinction in evaluation types is that between formative and summative evaluation. Formative evaluations strengthen or improve the object being evaluated — they help form it by examining the delivery of the program or technology, the quality of its implementation, and the assessment of the organizational context, personnel, procedures, inputs, and so on. Summative evaluations, in contrast, examine the effects or outcomes of some object — they summarize it by describing what happens subsequent to delivery of the program or technology; assessing whether the object can be said to have caused the outcome; determining the overall impact of the causal factor beyond only the immediate target outcomes; and, estimating the relative costs associated with the object.
Formative evaluation includes several evaluation types:
• needs assessment determines who needs the program, how great the need is, and what might work to meet the need
• evaluability assessment determines whether an evaluation is feasible and how stakeholders can help shape its usefulness
• structured conceptualization helps stakeholders define the program or technology, the target population, and the possible outcomes
• implementation evaluation monitors the fidelity of the program or technology delivery
• process evaluation investigates the process of delivering the program or technology, including alternative delivery procedures
Summative evaluation can also be subdivided:
• outcome evaluations investigate whether the program or technology caused demonstrable effects on specifically defined target outcomes
• impact evaluation is broader and assesses the overall or net effects — intended or unintended — of the program or technology as a whole
• cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis address questions of efficiency by standardizing outcomes in terms of their dollar costs and values
• secondary analysis reexamines existing data to address new questions or use methods not previously employed
• meta-analysis integrates the outcome estimates from multiple studies to arrive at an overall or summary judgement on an evaluation question
Evaluation Questions and Methods
Evaluators ask many different kinds of questions and use a variety of methods to address them. These are considered within the framework of formative and summative evaluation as presented above.
In formative research the major questions and methodologies are:
What is the definition and scope of the problem or issue, or what’s the question?
Formulating and conceptualizing methods might be used including brainstorming, focus groups, nominal group techniques, Delphi methods, brainwriting, stakeholder analysis, synectics, lateral thinking, input-output analysis, and concept mapping.
Where is the problem and how big or serious is it?
The most common method used here is “needs assessment” which can include: analysis of existing data sources, and the use of sample surveys, interviews of constituent populations, qualitative research, expert testimony, and focus groups.
How should the program or technology be delivered to address the problem?
Some of the methods already listed apply here, as do detailing methodologies like simulation techniques, or multivariate methods like multiattribute utility theory or exploratory causal modeling; decision-making methods; and project planning and implementation methods like flow charting, PERT/CPM, and project scheduling.
How well is the program or technology delivered?
Qualitative and quantitative monitoring techniques, the use of management information systems, and implementation assessment would be appropriate methodologies here.
The questions and methods addressed under summative evaluation include:
What type of evaluation is feasible?
Evaluability assessment can be used here, as well as standard approaches for selecting an appropriate evaluation design.
Evaluation is a methodological area that is closely related to, but distinguishable from more traditional social research. Evaluation utilizes many of the same methodologies used in traditional social research, but because evaluation takes place within a political and organizational context, it requires group skills, management ability, political dexterity, sensitivity to multiple stakeholders and other skills that social research in general does not rely on as much. Here we introduce the idea of evaluation and some of the major terms and issues in the field.