In the most basic sense, evaluation tells us where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. It is the backbone of competent and effective prevention work. Through evaluation, prevention teams can identify whether a program has accomplished its goals and objectives and gain information to help improve the program in the future.
Evaluation is defined as a formal process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting information about a program’s implementation and effectiveness. Simply stated, evaluation measures the outcomes achieved against those planned or desired.
The most effective evaluation plan takes place throughout program implementation, allowing active monitoring of the implementation as well as measuring outcomes and goals.
Integrating evaluation into the planning process helps to create a coherent and efficient prevention program. By doing so, prevention groups can clarify the desired program outcomes before implementation, thereby ensuring that precious resources are being spent effectively.
At each stage of program planning and implementation, different evaluation questions help guide the prevention team’s efforts.
- At the program planning stage, asking “What are we doing?” helps teams evaluate the details of their implementation process.
- After completing activities, the team asks “What is the result of each specific activity?” to understand individual program effects.
- Lastly, the prevention team asks “What is the overall effect of these activities?” to gauge the cumulative impact of prevention activities.
Engaging in this formal evaluation process provides the necessary information for moving prevention efforts forward in a strategic manner.