When developing a grant proposal, it’s tempting to think of the evaluation plan as something you tack on once the program plan is in place. But the evaluation plan is an integral part of the program. “It’s the program’s mirror,” said Barbara Floersch, chief of training for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “It reflects the reality of what’s actually happening rather than the theory of what you thought the program would look like and accomplish.”
When you’re working in your community to address important issues, you don’t just set a program on the track and hope it makes it to its destination. You watch it, and if it starts to go off the rails you react. Your job is to develop a feedback system that allows you to monitor progress and alerts you if changes are required. That feedback system is the program evaluation plan.
For the evaluation plan to serve its intended purpose, there are several important factors to include.
1. Start monitoring both service implementation and progress towards outcomes at the very beginning of the program. Make this an ongoing process that provides feedback at several different levels: quantity and quality of service; participant reactions; and indicators of impact.
2. Make sure someone is watching the gages. Data means nothing unless it’s gathered, assessed, and used. Be sure monitoring and using evaluation data is included in someone’s job description.
3. Report often. How often you’ll develop and share evaluation reports will depend on the nature of the program. But frequent reporting promotes transparency within your organization and out in the community. It also puts you in a proactive position, allowing you to confront problems before they turn into disasters.
“There are lots of ways to approach program evaluation,” said Floersch. “But in my experience the most important element is the attitude with which you approach it.” A commitment to right-sized, ongoing evaluation is a commitment to program quality and positive impact. © Copyright 2019 The Grantsmanship Center.