The new program or policy includes a set of interrelated measures combined into a plan of action to achieve a goal or solve some problem. In implementing them, it is crucial to understand whether it is worth further put into practice the action plan or whether there is no result, and for this reason, evaluation is necessary. This paper presents a reflection on the types of program evaluation and their significance for programs and policy implementations. The choice of the type is determined by the evaluation goals and the available data, and several types can be applied to the same program. Currently, valuation has gained increasing significance in the light of evidence-based practices and is crucial for estimating the impact of programs.
Program Evaluation Types
Depending on the evaluation objectives, the type used may differ. Thus, there are four main types of evaluation – process, output, cost-benefit, and impact, and several of them can be used within the same research (“Types of program evaluations,” n.d.). Moreover, the different steps of implementing programs and policies imply different quantity and quality of available information. Furthermore, issues that need to be addressed also affect the selection of the evaluation type. I believe that in order to choose which kind of evaluation to apply, it is essential to understand the differences between them.
- Process evaluations provide a general overview of the program implementation and operability and emphasize inputs, activities, and outputs (EDEP 657, 2021). This evaluation type effectively verifies that the program meets all the provided requirements and expectations set for it. The implementation stages at which the process evaluation is used are early and mature.
- Outcome evaluations are used at a mature stage of the program to review whether the desired outcomes have been achieved, what results have been unforeseen, and what are the links between outputs and outcomes.
- Cost-benefit evaluations are close to outcome evaluations but focus on comparing costs and benefits (“Types of program evaluations,” n.d.).
- Impact evaluations are the final evaluation of the program, where the concept of counterfactual data is applied. This evaluation is necessary to understand whether the introduced change has had any effect. At the same time, this type of assessment has two categories – prospective and retrospective. The first category is the assessment developed during the program planning phase and includes pre-implementation data, and the second category is the post-implementation evaluation.
Applying distinct types of evaluation is an exciting and time-consuming process. I noted that although the types are interrelated, they disclose programs on different sides due to the various questions that need to be addressed.
The multilateral approach is essential for a broad understanding of any process and helps to avoid knowledge gaps. While the studied theory on the topic from the video and the description of the evaluation types complements each other, I would like to consider their practical application. Fortunately, Gertler et al. (2016) provided some examples of process evaluation in Tanzania to provide some insight into the activity. Other examples such as preschool education in Mozambique and conditional cash transfer (CCT) program in Mexico show evaluation effectiveness and impact. They also have demonstrated the benefits of evaluation and the application of evidence-based practices.
I was also interested in the concept of counterfactual data. It involves considering the result of what would have been expected if the program had not been introduced (EDEP 657, 2021). The concept is at the intersection of practical effects and hypothetical assumptions, and I wonder how to formulate them without crossing the line of scientific evaluation. On the one hand, the analysis of counterfactual data may be similar to an exercise for intelligence.
However, on the other hand, the search for causal relationships within such research may better disclose and understand the evaluation. Reflection on counterfactual reminded me about control groups that are present in various studies, especially medical ones, and used to compare the effects of interventions. I would like to understand how often the presence of such groups in evaluations of programs in different areas is possible. Such questions are motivating for further study of the course.
Program Evaluation Significance
The importance of program evaluation stems from the need to make informed decisions and apply actions that will indeed have a positive impact on some aspect of the activity. This requirement is consistent with the global trend of evidence-based practice application (Murnane & Willett, 2010). A broader and more thoughtful approach allows one not to be distracted by short-term results, such as the amount of money spent or products purchased. The evaluation helps to understand the impact and whether the results were worth the efforts made. At the same time, understanding whether the program can achieve its goals and how effectively available resources are used to implement it is necessary before completion. This approach is effective in various fields – medicine, politics, education, and other areas.
Evaluation is also necessary to reveal how much the program increases the well-being of people it affects. This application of the evaluation process, in my opinion, is extremely useful for policy and accountability to citizens. Dishonest authorities in various countries, manipulating taxpayers’ money, can enrich themselves but create the appearance of activity in people’s favor. In turn, data generated as a result of the in-depth evaluation, not the number of actions performed, may serve as proof of effectiveness. As a result, the investment of efforts and funds will be justified by the fact that they will benefit, but not damage, the well-being of citizens.
Consideration of this political aspect concerns the ethical side of the evaluation. According to Gertler et al. (2016), in some cases, the absence of evaluation itself may be unethical. In my opinion, the influence of political decisions and programs on citizens is an excellent example of such a situation. The evaluation process has other important ethical nuances that must be observed. For instance, they are subject to ethical rules for human-related investigations (Linfield & Posavac, 2018). Moreover, evaluations should not be conducted to the detriment of the programs for which they are directed and should be objective and transparent.
Evidence-based practice implies the use of different approaches besides evaluations. For example, evaluation differs from monitoring, which occurs regularly and controls processes occurring within the program. Evaluation, in turn, occurs periodically, and specific questions are answered. These questions can be descriptive, regulatory, and cause-and-effect. At the same time, the data that is used to answer them are divided into qualitative ones – transmitted through the language and quantitative ones – created using numbers and measurements. Besides monitoring, ex-ante simulations and mixed-method analysis may be complementary approaches for evaluation (Gertler et al., 2016). The first approach helps to assess the potential effect of the program based on data already available. The second method combines quantitative and qualitative data and helps develop hypotheses. As with different types of evaluation, the choice of method may depend on the objectives pursued.
Not all programs require in-depth assessment, in particular impact evaluation. They are aimed at identifying a causal relationship and may require significant financial investments. For this reason, a preliminary analysis is needed to help understand how much evaluation is needed, what its value is, the role in decision-making, and whether resources are available for it. As a result, one can distinguish several conditions and requirements for the program requiring evaluation. Such programs and policies should be innovative, replicable, strategically relevant, untested, and influential (EDEP 657, 2021). In the presence of these conditions, the assessment is necessary and justified.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the beginning of the course and the first chapters of the material are extremely intriguing. They have some aspects that may initially be difficult to understand. For instance, the concept of counterfactual or subtlety in the differences between types of evaluations and their complementary approaches are challenging. However, some cases may be clarifying, and we will further explore these issues. For me, the main lessons learned from the material are the significance of assessments, the importance of choosing an appropriate approach, and some limitations accompanying them.
While evaluations, especially impact ones, reveal critical aspects of programs and policies, their use is not always justified. It is crucial to make a preliminary study and determine whether such an assessment has been carried out before in order to use the available resources reasonably.
EDEP 657. (2021). Week 2 [Video]. YouTube. Web.
Gertler, P. J., Martinez, S., Premand, P., Rawlings, L. B., & Vermeersch, C. M. J. (2016). Impact evaluation in practice (2nd Ed.). International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank.
Linfield, K. J., & Posavac, E. J. (2018). Program evaluation: Methods and case studies. Routledge.
Murnane, R. J., & Willett, J. B. (2010). Methods matter: Improving causal inference in educational and social science research. Oxford University Press.
Types of program evaluations. (n.d.). NOAA Office of Performance, Risk & Social Science. Web.