One of the things that I love about program evaluation is the diversity of models and methods that you must think about to analyze a program. But even before you get to the point of developing and solidifying your evaluation design, there’s a lot of legwork you need to do up front. In successful evaluations, that process starts by asking the right questions. So where does this process start? Here are just a few questions you can start with to get a conversation rolling with your client and have confidence that your evaluation is moving in the right direction.
1. What do you hope to achieve with this program?
A common challenge for all organizations is goal setting, and in an evaluation setting, having clear and measurable goals is absolutely essential. Too often goals are defined, but may not actually be matched to participant or organizational needs. As evaluators, we should pay close attention to these distinctions, as they enable us to help clients improve the implementation of their programs and guide them towards their anticipated outcomes.
2. What’s the history of this program?
New program or old, you’re going to need to know the background of the initiative. That will lead you to understand the funding, core stakeholders, requirements, and any necessary information needed to evaluate the program. You might learn interesting stories about why the program has struggled, which can help you to design your evaluation and create research questions. It’s also a great way to get to know a client and learn about their pain points in the past and really understand what their objectives are for the evaluation.
3. What kind of data do you plan on collecting or do you have access to?
Every program evaluator has faced the challenge of getting the data they need to conduct an evaluation. You need to know what’s needed early on and what kind of data you’ll need to do the evaluation. Don’t wait to have those conversations with your clients. If you’re putting this on hold until you are ready to conduct your tests, it may very well be too late.
4. What challenges do you foresee with program implementation?
Program designs might change as challenges that impact program design and delivery arise. But if you can spot some red flags early on, you might be able to help your client navigate implementation challenges and avoid roadblocks. The key is being flexible and working with your client to understand and anticipate implementation issues and work to address them in advance.
5. What excites you about this program?
This question allows you to get to know the client a bit more, understand their interests, and build a relationship with the client. I love this question because it reinforces the idea of an evaluator as a partner in the program. By acting as a partner, you can provide your clients with the right kind of evaluation, and build a partnership along the way.
Program evaluation presents some very challenging and complex questions for evaluators. Starting with these five questions will allow you to focus the evaluation and set your client and the evaluation team up for success.