At Sun Associates, we assist project teams through the process of thinking about and focusing their work as part of our three-stage approach to project evaluation. Regardless of your project’s scope, there are a few good common sense steps that your team can take to set the stage for effective evaluation. As pointed out in an earlier post, planning effectively for evaluation involves taking time to clarify your goals and outcome expectations, and think about what data you want to collect to document those outcomes. Effective planning for evaluation in advance of actually implementing your project will put you in the best position possible to answer questions about project impact and sustainability that will ultimately come your way.
So how do you get started with evaluation planning? The simple answer is that all you really need to do commit to having a discussion with your project stakeholders about project goals and outcomes and documenting what comes out of that discussion.
Yes, it’s actually pretty much that simple. Evaluation need not be an arduous or scary activity that gets put off until well after a project has started (or avoided altogether). Rather, you can put your project on course for having evaluation data by:
- Taking care to think through who your project stakeholders are and insuring that these individuals are represented in some way in a discussion (whether that discussion is a face-to-face meeting or a virtual meeting, or some combination of methods) of project goals, actions, outcomes and data before implementation begins.
- Documenting the results of the planning meeting. In fact, creating expectations such as how success will be defined and recognized, and which data will be collected, will help to insure that goals and outcomes actually get recorded.
The basic process of program evaluation – or in other words, documenting the degree to which your project is meeting its goals and achieving intended outcomes/indicators – is the same regardless of project size or focus. This means that whether your project is about piloting a learning intervention (such as a new piece of software, a pedagogical approach, or some combination thereof) or implementing new hardware (such as a 1:1 initiative, BYOD, portable devices, a new lab, smart boards, etc.) the two most important parts of the evaluation process are stakeholder discussion and the documentation of your goals and related outcomes.
On our website are several simple tools that can help you identify stakeholders and get started on the process of thinking about and creating your own indicators. As you will see, these tools and examples are quite simple, but what’s important is that a project actually use a process to formally carry out its work. Time and time again our clients tell us that the work of developing an evaluation is not rocket science, but that until they actually took the time to sit down (physically or virtually) and engage with the tasks of discussion and documentation there was little consensus around expected project outcomes. Evaluation is intended to both build consensus and produce data on project impact.
In the coming weeks, we will produce a webinar that can coach projects through the development of evaluation indicators and will help participants construct indicators for their own projects. Check back here or on our webinar page for more details soon. Meanwhile, leave comments below if you have questions or concerns and we ’ll try to help out as best we can.