Evaluation tools are often thought of as an endnote to critically assess the effectiveness of a program. But a good, rigorous evaluation study is so much more.
To start with, evaluation programs should be designed around the entire program before implementation begins. It should include a baseline group and a comparison group, and create monitoring mechanisms pre, post and ideally during the study. This helps set measurable and targeted goals to shape successful implementation of the intended project.
Next, there should be a theory of change developed, to link activities to (desired) estimated outcomes. Effective evaluation studies have a clear understanding of the assumptions, restrictions, and needs they are addressing; and the associated implementation strategies before the start of the project. Being aware of potential issues beforehand and having a clear focus would help structure both the design of the program and the designing of specific evaluation questions. Including assumptions and being cognisant of external issues forms an integral part of ensuring a strong program design.
Then comes the actual designing of the evaluation study and questions. Questions should guide and inform the program implementers and stakeholders in terms of the aims of the study. They would also explain how results obtained would be used in the implementation, to improve the program along the way.
Finally comes the stage wherein the data has been collected and collated, and is ready to be analysed. This is the last stage, often confused for the only stage in evaluation.
Good evaluation strategies should entail a mixed methods approach and use interesting participatory methods, where communities are involved in planning, implementing and analysing the results of the evaluation.
Evaluation is therefore a comprehensive, systematic process that must form the backbone of a social program. This would enable the extraction of precise, pertinent data to measure and assess impact, and suggest avenues for improvement.
– Devina Buchkshee, Research Associate – 4th Wheel Social Impact