Evaluation is the systematic collection and analysis of data needed to make decisions, a process in which most well-run programs engage from the outset. Evaluation is the cornerstone of strong program planning, execution, and improvement.
With an evaluation plan in place, campus administrators and coalitions can assess whether a particular program or policy is working as intended and then decide whether it should continue as is or be expanded, revised, or terminated. Evaluation is an essential part of strategic planning, because evaluation findings are used to guide plans for midcourse improvements. A well-designed evaluation can document how a prevention initiative was implemented and assess its intermediate and long-term outcomes. With these findings in hand, the planning group can develop plans for strengthening or improving that effort. Evaluation is an important management tool in an academic environment, where the collection, assessment, and interpretation of evidence are highly valued activities.
A process evaluation documents how the program work is being implemented and whether it is working as originally planned. An outcome evaluation looks at whether each program and policy is accomplishing its short-term and intermediate objectives. An impact or summative evaluation examines whether the overall effort is reducing risks factors or increasing resiliency.
This approach ensures that the evaluation design is crafted to fit the programmatic goals, objectives, and activities; that the short-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes are clearly specified; that the data necessary to assess those outcomes are collected when they are available; and that the resources needed to conduct a proper evaluation are in place in advance.
A logic model includes key components of the program and maps out the chain of expected events that show how the specific programs and policies will lead to and accomplish intermediate and long-term outcomes. The evaluators' and program planners' first step should be to work with the staff to create a logic model that describes the program.