Program evaluation can take many forms depending on the type of information that people are hoping to gather. As an internal evaluator at a large urban youth center, I evaluate each of our 50+ youth development programs.

Each evaluation is a little different because different staff need different information. For example, we might focus on client satisfaction for one program and focus on long-term outcomes for another program.

Program evaluation is valued at my youth center because it helps us to:

  • Strengthen existing services
  • Find out if the program worked, and if so, for whom and under what circumstances
  • Figure out which services were most effective and expand only the programs with a strong track record of success
  • Identify staff training needs
  • Develop and justify budgets; be cost-effective
  • Create an atmosphere of openness to findings, with a commitment to considering change and a willingness to learn
  • Focus Board Members’ attention on programmatic issues
  • Provide a communication tool to let people know what’s being done and the difference that it makes
  • Provide an opportunity for direct service staff to communicate with supervisors about strengths and weaknesses of the program
  • Reaffirm that we’re on the right track
  • Get information to use for program development
  • Focus on programs that really make a difference for youth
  • Make programs tangible by describing expected outcomes
  • Benefit the organization’s long-range planning efforts
  • Determine what stumbling blocks the program may have encountered along the way
  • Benefit families that use the services
  • Let youth have a say in services – through interviews, focus groups, and satisfaction surveys
  • Do a better job for our youth
  • Create an environment where everyone is encouraged to discuss their feedback about the program
  • Have data to show quality
  • Help focus on primary tasks – “work smart, not hard”
  • Assure potential participants that our program produces results
  • Track how many of our youth reach our desired outcomes
  • Find out if our youth improved their knowledge, behavior, skills, attitude, values, condition, etc.
  • Get inside the program – understand roles, responsibilities, organizational structure, history, and goals; and how politics, values, and paradigms affect the program’s implementation and its impact
  • A reality check – to compare our perceptions to the hard numbers
  • Figure out “how” the program works
  • Collect information as a routine part of what we’re doing
  • Communicate to funders
  • Help justify existence
  • Be accountable
  • Take pride in accomplishment and quality
  • Find out what happens to our youth after they receive our services

What do you think are some of the most valuable aspects of program evaluation?