Program Evaluation

Program Evaluation

Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8116-3.ch008


In this chapter, students are presented with the fundamentals of program evaluation. Upon reading this chapter, students will understand what program evaluation is, how one goes about completing an evaluation, and the importance of stakeholders in the evaluation process. Also examined are the different types of program evaluations and discussion of ethical conduct for program evaluators.
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What Is Program Evaluation?

Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, the policy sciences emerged as a means of studying and addressing some of the most pressing societal problems through the use of highly quantitative and quasi-scientific approaches to social problem solving. Examples of these approaches include operations research and planning programming budgeting systems (PPBS). Operations research entails the use of statistics and mathematical modeling in decision making, while PPBS is the systematic comparison of different programs with regard to costs and effectiveness. With the advent of the antipoverty movement during the administrations of President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the policy science community saw an opportunity to contribute in the area of policy formulation. Policy science contributions culminated with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which was the centerpiece of Johnson’s Great Society agenda. In spite of a comprehensive legislative effort to combat poverty, there was little improvement in the lives of the poor in the U.S. Johnson’s antipoverty programs were, by and large, unsuccessful, and this consequently altered the focus of the policy science community, whereby program evaluation research moved to the forefront (deLeon, 1988).

Program evaluation, in simplest terms, is the use of social science research methods to determine if a public program is useful. Unlike more traditional academic research, program evaluation is more client-centered and applied in nature. Programs evaluators use the same six deductive and inductive empirical tools discussed in this book thus far.

There are two schools of thought regarding how program evaluations should be conducted. On the one hand, some would argue that program evaluations should follow social science research principles to the letter, whereby very few, if any, concessions are made regarding the needs of the client. In other words, program evaluations should differ very little from purely academic research that appears in scholarly publications. On the other hand, some might argue that while program evaluations must be grounded in social science research principles, it is necessary to take into account the individual needs of the client (Rossi, Lipsey, & Freeman 2004).

There are several reasons why program directors initiate an outside evaluation. For most program directors, the motivation for an evaluation is to gain knowledge and improve some aspect of their program. For some others, however, political or public relations considerations serve as motivation. At times, program evaluations are ritualistic endeavors that are meant to appease policymakers and/or advocacy groups that are pressuring a government department or agency for more accountability or better results.

For an evaluator, it is important to have an understanding as to what is motivating an evaluation. Evaluations motivated by hidden agendas or politics increase the possibility that a program’s director may pressure an evaluator to conduct an evaluation that lacks necessary objectivity (that is, the absence of personal bias). If the motivation of an evaluation is unclear, the evaluator may ask:

  • Why is there a need for this program to be evaluated?

  • What questions will this evaluation try to answer?

  • How will the research results and data be used?

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