Evaluation within the local government context can seem complicated or confusing. There is such an array of things that may need to be evaluated, include programs, events, activities, policies, strategies, initiatives, services and venues; all of which can vary in size and structure, delivered at a single location, or be part of broader service delivery involving other agencies.
Regardless of the nature and size of the thing you’re evaluating within council, here are three tips to keep things on track!
Tip 1. Know why you’re evaluating
Early evaluation planning can enhance a program’s design by asking fundamental questions about why you’re conducting the evaluation and how you intend to use the outcomes. Early planning and questioning its purpose can significantly increase the evaluation approach options to choose from. It can also ensure that findings are available to support formal decision making processes for the program’s future.
If you can be clear about why you are evaluating, you will set the project up for success.
Tip 2. Be very familiar with the thing you’re evaluating
Before you can evaluate, you need to be able to articulate exactly how the thing is intended to work. If it’s a program, how does it run and who is it intended to reach or serve? If you’re talking about an event, what is its purpose and how will it achieve this outcome? For a policy or strategy, ask yourself how it came about, what its purpose is and how its internal mechanisms intended to operate.
Regardless of what it is you’re evaluating, you need to spend time articulating and mapping out exactly how the thing is intended to work. I recommend preparing a Program Logic Model, which is a kind of a mind-map or flow chart showing the cause and effect mechanisms that your program is supposed to use to achieve certain effects. You’d work through this process with you project team and external evaluator if you’re using one. By thinking about this series of causal steps, you’re setting a foundation to determine what you need to ask when you gather evidence about how well your program, activity, policy, event or activity is working.
Tip 3. Define success
An evaluation is only an evaluation if you commit to making a judgement about the thing in question. Otherwise, you will just be preparing a descriptive outcomes report that serves a different purpose.
Take the thing you’re evaluating, gather with your council project team and ask yourself what success looks like in this context, what poor performance looks like, and what level of performance you can reasonably expect at this time, given where your program (event, policy or activity) is at in terms of its delivery or completion? You could use a thing called a Rubric to do this. This is a kind of a rating scale which illustrates the difference between good and bad, success and failure, to help you determine what is in and what is out, what meets and grade and what doesn’t.
These three tips are possibly the most essential steps when it comes to conducting solid evaluation in any situation, but particularly for local government, which involves the evaluation of so many different types of things.
If you’d like to learn more about how these steps fit within the broader context of the process of evaluation in the local government context (including how to prepare a Program Logic Model and a Rubric!) join my online course Practical Evaluation for Local Government, designed for you to work through in your own time and at your own pace. You can find out more about the course here.