5 Tips to Jump Start Program Evaluation Planning

The first quarter of the year is a great time to plan for program evaluation! Effective evaluation showcases your program’s impact, lets you revitalize plans with data-informed ideas, and helps your agency win more funding to grow. To help you get started, we’ve put together some concrete steps you can take to start prioritizing evaluation activities in 2024. Let’s dive in!

1. List each unique program offered by your organization.

This list should include any programs or services that your organization provides to clients. It does not include internal functions, such as Accounting, Human Resources, Marketing, or other operational activities.

2. Identify relevant deadlines for each program.

For each program on your list,  note any deadlines for reporting evaluation data. This should include grant reports, annual/impact reports, and internally-driven reviews of program performance.

3. Describe the current state of evaluation practices for each program.

As you consider your evaluation needs for the upcoming year, it’s important to consider where you are right now. To gauge the current state of evaluation, you can categorize each program using a set of simple labels like this:

  • None — This program is not currently conducting evaluation.
  • Limited —This program collects information on client satisfaction only.
  • Moderate — This program collects basic process data, such as the number of clients served.
  • Advanced — This program collects outcome data to examine the impact of the program on clients.

4. Determine the type of evaluation needed for each program. 

Not all programs require the same type of evaluation – in fact, planning multiple evaluations over the lifespan of your program development is more effective! In general, newer programs may benefit most from a process evaluation to understand the volume of clients served and the types of services delivered. As programs mature, outcome evaluations are needed to determine if program services are achieving the desired impact on clients.

5. Select evaluation priorities.

Prioritize your evaluation projects based on the information you have compiled in Steps 2, 3, and 4. Reporting deadlines may be the primary driver of how you allocate resources for evaluation activities, but other factors should also be considered. For those programs without a specific reporting deadline, create an internal target date to ensure each program is evaluated on an annual basis. Capacity is also an important consideration. If you do not have the capacity to evaluate all programs, it may be helpful to prioritize those that have been operating for the longest period of time. Mature programs are more likely to be “ready” for an evaluation, compared to those that are newer. (Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog on evaluation readiness for more information on the type of evaluation that best suits your programs!)

Next Steps

One of the biggest mistakes regarding evaluation is waiting until the last minute to determine what you need to make it happen. Start mobilizing your evaluation resources from the outset to ensure a smooth process throughout the year. A few key steps include:

  • Identify internal staff who will assist with developing the evaluation strategy, collecting data, analyzing the data, and compiling an evaluation report.
  • Determine the need for skilled professionals to assist staff with evaluation activities.
  • Create a budget by estimating any extra costs associated with data collection, analysis, and reporting. CLICK HERE to download our FREE cost calculator.

Grab your calendar ASAP and pencil in 20 minutes over the next two weeks to figure out what’s on the evaluation docket for 2024. Then, set two goals in the next month to help you get started on evaluation.

As outcome strategists, we understand the challenges of planning for evaluation. However, taking the time and effort to develop a robust timetable is essential for nonprofit and government organizations to get crystal-clear data. And if you need a helping hand getting all your ducks in a row, make sure to give us a buzz – we’re ready to help with all your data and evaluation needs!