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EVALUATION AND RESEARCH
What is evaluation?
Evaluation is undertaken to determine the processes or effectiveness of a program. These findings are then used to improve the program, share with funders and other stakeholders. It can be undertaken before, during and after a program. Evaluation activities include needs assessments; pilot testing; focus group testing; monitoring programs; quality assurance and assessing the effects of programs through surveys, interviews and observation; and accessing secondary data.
Evaluation is a fundamental aspect of good program management at all levels and is an effective tool to enhance project planning. Evaluation:
- Provides data on program progress and effectiveness;
- Improves program management and decision-making;
- Allows accountability to stakeholders, including funders;
- Provides data to plan future resource needs;
- Provides evidence on effectiveness that could help to secure continued funding or additional funding for new initiatives that build on previous work; and
- Provides data useful for policy-making and advocacy.
What is research?
Research is any creative investigative work undertaken using scientific methods. Research aims to answer a question that addresses a specific problem or issue such as a health condition, social relationships, or behaviours. Research activities include increasing knowledge to devise new programs and policies; testing processes and treatments; seeking ethics approval; collecting and analysing data; publishing findings; developing grant proposals; and communicating findings at conferences and forums.
While there is overlap between research and evaluation, the key differences are that research is usually undertaken to explore a problem and then generalise the findings from a small sample to a larger population, whereas evaluation is undertaken to understand the performance of a program.
It is important to evaluate programs for many reasons. Firstly you need to make sure at the very least, that the project is not creating any unintended harm. Secondly evaluation enables you to determine if the project is making a positive contribution. Through evaluation you can demonstrate to funding bodies, key stakeholders, participants and the community that the project has achieved what it set out to achieve, therefore gaining credibility. This in turn will assist your endeavours in procuring future funding.
Furthermore, evaluation is a tool for improving and learning. You can learn what elements made the project run as intended, how it can be replicated, how challenges can be overcome in the future and how to make the project sustainable.[2,3] Evaluation also contributes to, and builds on existing research to assist and influence public policy.
Green and South very succinctly summarised the four main reasons evaluation is conducted for:
- program management and development; and
- ethical obligation.
- Weiss, C. 1998. Evaluation: methods for studying programs and policies, Ch. 1, pp. 1-19, Prentice Hall, N.J.
- Trochim W. 2006. Introduction to evaluation. Retrieved www.socialresearchmethods.net
- Hawe, P., Degeling, D., Hall, J. 1990. Evaluating health promotion: A health worker’s guide, MacLennan & Petty, Sydney.
- Green J. and South J. 2006. Evaluation: key concepts for public health practice. Open University Press.