Frequently Asked Questions

What is program evaluation?

Program evaluation is the systematic assessment of the processes and/or outcomes of a program with the intent of furthering its development and improvement. As such, it is a collaborative process in which evaluators work closely with program staff to craft and implement an evaluation design that is responsive to the needs of the program. For example, during program implementation, evaluators can provide formative evaluation findings so that program staff can make immediate, data-based decisions about program implementation and delivery. In addition, evaluators can, towards the end of a program or upon its completion, provide cumulative and summative evaluation findings, often required by funding agencies and used to make decisions about program continuation or expansion.

How is evaluation different than research?

Evaluators use many of the same qualitative and quantitative methodologies used by researchers in other fields. Indeed, program evaluations are as rigorous and systematic in collecting data as traditional social research. That being said, the primary purpose of evaluation is to provide timely and constructive information for decision-making about particular programs, not to advance more wide-ranging knowledge or theory. Accordingly, evaluation is typically more client-focused than traditional research, in that evaluators work closely with program staff to create and carry-out an evaluation plan that attend to the particular needs of their program.

How is evaluation different than assessment?

The primary difference between evaluation and assessment lies in the focus of examination. Whereas evaluation serves to facilitate a program's development, implementation, and improvement by examining its processes and/or outcomes; the purpose of an assessment is to determine individuals or group's performances by measuring their skill level on a variable of interest (e.g., reading comprehension, math or social skills, to mention just a few). In line with this distinction—and quite common in evaluating educational programs where the intended outcome is often some specified level of academic achievement—assessment data may be used in determining program impact and success.

How much does it cost?

The cost of an evaluation is entirely contingent upon the scope and nature of the evaluation activities and measures requested. The National Science Foundation's “rule of thumb” about evaluation budgets is 10% of the total grant amount. We at the OEA are committed to providing cost effective evaluation plans that are both responsive to the evaluative needs of a given program and also suitable to its budget. As a result, we have worked in the past—and aspire to work in the future—with programs and projects representing a wide-range of financial plans.

My proposal requires an “evaluation” section. Can you help me with that?

Many federal agencies (e.g., NSF, NIH) require that proposals include information about how the effectiveness of the proposed program will be evaluated. This section usually contains a brief description of possible metrics for program outcomes and a plan for both formative and summative evaluation of the program. The program evaluators at OEA will provide text for the evaluation section of your proposal free of charge, assuming that you plan to work with OEA if and when your grant is funded. Depending on time and available resources, our staff will also provide feedback on the grant as a whole and guidance on the development of your goals and outcomes. The best way to begin is to _contact us_ as early in the proposal process as possible.

My proposal is due very soon, can you still help me?

Although we prefer being contacted well in advance of proposal deadlines, we also understand that project timelines and planning processes may not always be ideal. For that reason, we will do our best to work with you and your program even if the time period is limited. For all clients, we respectfully request that you contact us before including our evaluation services and practices in grant proposals, even if this contact is initiated immediately preceding a fast approaching deadline.