Benefits

As the Preface stated, where there is a program, there should be evaluation. Answers to the "why" in this chapter's title emanate from different vantage points: management may ask for it; planning and policymaking may require it; or researchers interested in testing a principle or thesis may demand it. More on each of these requirements follows.

Benefits to Sponsors and Staff

First let's consider the "why" that emanates from the potential benefits to be derived. Regardless of whether a program is funded with public (tax) funds or private (foundation, company, or individual) funds, at some point those dispensers of the funds will probably ask, "What did we get for the money?" The results of evaluation activities provide you with some data to back up your inklings about the relative value of the activities, the effectiveness of the processes, and their impact on the people involved and the organization. Additionally, when staff members engage in evaluation, they find themselves talking to each other. Even conversations that center on evaluation procedures can act as a staging ground for good professional discussion on the program and its processes. Thus, an outgrowth of such communication is staff s appreciation of each other's ideas and of each other as colleagues.

The staff benefit in other ways as well. They need to know the definitions, potentials, and limitations of evaluation. Formal evaluation helps them select and state appropriate standards, indicators, evidence, and resources. This process requires some level of scrutiny of a program from the perspective of the evaluation's philosophy, its procedures, and its anticipated outcomes. Staff members learn from this process, the program is improved as a result of this learning, and the client, eventually, is the beneficiary. Evaluation can also help staff to build a greater advocacy for their particular position. Caution is urged here, however, so that evaluation does not appear to be self-serving, a whitewash that points out only positive aspects. Evaluation should also point out program weaknesses, if any are found.

Opportunities

The evaluation might also present an opportunity to identify new audiences and applications for a program or to single out audiences that are no longer appropriate or in existence. An evaluation with good follow-up not only provides diagnostic data about participants in one particular intervention but also uses this diagnosis to improve subsequent learning activities for other participants. Through evaluation we can look at different ways to approach a task, different audiences the approach might benefit, and additional needs of the current audience.

Understanding of Outcomes

In the end, the benefits of evaluation include an increased knowledge of outcomes. Outcomes are what occur as a direct result of an action—such as training, services, or teaching—usually measured immediately after the activity has been performed. The purpose of such an evaluation is to determine whether the action was effective in doing what it set out to do. Sometimes outcomes are anticipated and sometimes they are surprises—such surprises might be of a positive or negative nature. For instance, a training program might be designed to prepare line workers to become supervisors. An anticipated outcome would be that the line worker obtains the information needed to function as a supervisor of other employees. An unanticipated outcome might be the weeding out of individuals who now realize that the role of supervisor is not something they can or want to do.

Longer-range, more sustained results of an action may be termed "impacts," which need to be measured after a longer period to allow for things to percolate and settle in. For example, a training session may be deemed effective, given the impressive outcomes after its completion. However, within three months, due to lack of retention or lack of use or "buy-in," the new knowledge has not been put to use in the workplace. Thus, there was little or no impact from the training.

Impact is an especially important factor when the action is attempting to change behavior or attitudes. Individuals will often be able to tell you that they know something—they have a cognitive understanding— but whether they actually incorporate that new knowledge into how they think and perform may be a different matter.

The measurement of learner outcomes, community outcomes, employment outcomes, or employer satisfaction forms the basis on which people make decisions about programs' worthiness. Of course, an essential part of the process is maintaining records of both intended and unintended outcomes.

 
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