Evaluations of programs and initiatives may serve various purposes when conducted at different times in the program’s life. Depending on what you would like to assess, you may wish to conduct an evaluation before the program to collect baseline information to help plan the program, during the program to identify progress and challenges, or after the program to identify outcomes and impacts. If you only consider evaluation as an afterthought, your options will be limited in terms of the questions the evaluation may be able to answer.
Here are 4 benefits to the early planning of evaluations:
You can take measures before and after
If you wish to conduct an evaluation that measures the impact of an intervention on a group of people, it may be necessary to conduct a pre-test post-test design. In this approach, we take a benchmark measure of something (for example, knowledge, attitudes, wellbeing) before the intervention, then, a post-test with the same group of people following the intervention. But for this to be implemented it must be planned early; the pre-test benchmark reading must be taken before the intervention is rolled out. This can only occur if the evaluation is planned early.
You will collect the right data
When evaluations are planned for early in the process of delivering a program or intervention, you are able to know what evidence you will be looking for before you start collecting data. You will be aware of the evaluation questions you know you will want to answer some time down the track and will consequently be able to set up meaningful monitoring systems to collect relevant data to feed into the evaluation.
Findings can feed into the program activities
You may wish to judge the worth of a program while the program activities are in progress. In this case, if you plan early enough, you may conduct a formative evaluation. A formative evaluation is generally any evaluation that takes place before or during a program’s implementation with the aim of improving the project’s design and performance. Without formative evaluation, you may be embarking on a program that may not meet a real need, or one that may be constrained by external factors you cannot control.
You will determine and secure resources
The scope and purpose of the evaluation should be considered when the program budget is being planned. The amount of resources available may influence the scope of the evaluation, its rigour and reliability of findings. When an evaluation budget is determined early, it may provide a good opportunity to encourage stakeholders to agree on the value of the evaluation and the amount and type of resources necessary to support it.
The earlier you can plan for evaluation in the project life-cycle the better. Early planning will mean you have a better understanding of what will ultimately be evaluated, the purpose and criteria for the evaluation, the key evaluation questions, and how data will be collected, analysed and reported. Unfortunately if evaluation is considered as an afterthought, it may not be possible to go back and collect quality data. And in the end, an evaluation can only really be as good as the quality of data collected.