How do you visualize evaluation?

Lately, I’ve been busy designing graphics and diagrams to use in next week’s eStudy with Agata Jose-Ivanina. Sometimes the best way to explain a complicated topic is to break it down and display the little pieces and how they relate to each other in a simple graphic. Our dashboard automation process is one example where explaining the process through diagrams will (hopefully!) make a big difference for our students.

Evaluation is another example in which graphics can help evaluators explain the process to stakeholders.

So how do evaluators visualize evaluation? Is evaluation an ongoing cycle or a series of linear steps? How do you communicate this evaluation process to the program staff? Is the layout of your graphic connected to the evaluation’s purpose and goals?

Let’s look at a few examples.

Evaluation Cycles Evaluation Steps
Innovation Network’s Ongoing Learning Cycle
Safe Routes to Schools’s Six Steps for Program Evaluation
Social Research Methods’ Evaluation and Planning Phases
The Adam’s 14 Colorado School District’s 6 Steps of Program Evaluationevaluation_steps_adams14
Centers for Disease Control’s 6 Steps of Evaluation (Although these are called “steps,” they are displayed as a cycle, so I chose to include them here.)
The University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Extension’s Evaluation Steps, shown as more of a timeline in which stakeholders are engaged throughout the entire processevaluation_steps_coopext

An evaluation cycle implies that evaluation is an ongoing process where data are continually used for learning and decision making. Perhaps displaying evaluation cycles is most appropriate when conducting formative evaluations or evaluations where organizational learning is a high priority.

On the other hand, evaluation steps imply that you’re building towards something. Perhaps there’s an end goal or final step. In the examples shown above, the final step is to “use results” or “publish.” Evaluation steps are probably most appropriate when conducting summative evaluations where there’s a one-time final report.

In both cases, pictures matter.

How do you visualize the evaluation process? Do you have additional examples to share?