The most common purposes, or intended uses of evaluations, are often described by the terms formative evaluation and summative evaluation.
Formative evaluation focuses on evaluation for project improvement, in contrast with summative evaluation which uses evaluation results to make decisions about project adoption, expansion, contraction, continuation, or cancellation.
Since formative evaluation is all about project improvement, it needs to occur while there is still time to implement change. So, the earlier a formative evaluation can begin in an ATE project cycle, the better. Formative evaluation is also a recurring activity. As such, those who will be involved in implementing change (project leaders and staff) are the ones who will be the most interested in the results of a formative evaluation.
E. Jane Davidson notes in her book, Evaluation Methodology Basics, that there are two main areas in which formative evaluation is especially useful. Adapted for the ATE context those areas are:
- To help a new project “find its feet” by helping to improve project plans early in the award cycle. Another example for a new project is collecting early evidence of project relevancy from faculty and students, thus allowing changes to occur before full roll out of a project component.
- To assist more established projects improve their services, become more efficient with their grant dollars, or reach a larger audience. For projects looking for refunding, formative evaluation can assist in finding areas of improvement (even in long standing activities) to better respond to changing needs.