This is the second in a series of articles on program evaluation. The first article discusses why we evaluate programs and gives a brief overview of the process. This article gives details on the initial steps of that process.
The best place to begin is at the beginning. By that I mean, revisit the idea or plan the led to the establishment of your program. Does your program or organization have a mission statement? Goals? If these documents are already in place, they can help provide the structure for your evaluation. You might first want to touch base with the relevant stakeholders, to be sure that these documents still reflect how you view yourselves and what you do. If not, consider updating them. If these documents are not in place, it is best to begin your evaluation by creating them, with input from all of the relevant stakeholders.
Once the mission statement and goals are in place, you can move on to writing specific objectives (also called outcomes or outcome statements). Objectives are more specific than goals. Goals tend to be broader in scope, and are likely to remain relevant from year to year, as long as the focus of your organization or program does not change. A goal might be “help homeless families reestablish themselves.” The objectives should be the specific strategies that you intend to implement to bring about the desired changes. For example, if your goal is to help homeless families, one of your objectives could be, “provide job placement counseling and assistance.” Another objective could be, “provide assistance in locating affordable housing.” If your program helps homeless families, it would not be hard to believe that you are doing both of these things. Each unique aspect of what you do needs its own objective. Further, if your program specializes exclusively in job placement assistance, for example, you’ll likely need to write a number of objectives in relation to this that are much more specific than my example above.
The best advice I can give regarding writing your objectives is the make them measurable and use active verbs. If it is not something that you can see, hear, count, weigh or otherwise hold in your hand it will be hard to come up with a credible way to measure it. Here’s a bad example: “Students will appreciate the differences between baroque and renaissance musical forms.” I’m not sure how I can tell by looking at someone whether or not they appreciate something. However, “Students will be able to differentiate various compositions based upon their knowledge of baroque and renaissance musical forms,” or “Clients will be able to identify and effectively implement three effective job-seeking strategies,” are statements we can work with.
Use active verbs that clearly communicate the expected outcome. There are a number of online sources for lists of active verbs which you will likely find helpful. I also recommend chapter 2 of Mary J. Allen’s (2004) Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education (Anker Publishing Company). Though this book was intended for college and university faculty and administrators, it has very broad application.
Finally, don’t be at all frustrated if you or some of your stakeholders are not completely satisfied with your first efforts. It often takes the most experienced of us more than one round to come up with a mission statement and goals that capture the focus of your program, and objectives that are truly representative of what you do on an daily basis. Keep in mind that this article and the others in this series are not intended the replace the need for professional consultation, but to enable you to be more aware of the process as you work with your consultant.
The first article in this series can be found at: http://ezineseeker.com/?I-Have-to-Evaluate-My-Program-and-I-Dont-Know-Where-to-Begin&id=2500393
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