Evaluation is more than just the assessment of merit, worth, and significance of a program, product, or service. Although these are the primary functions of evaluation, it can serve far more than this when designed and implemented in the appropriate manner.
Evaluation focuses attention on the things that your organization builds, has built, and implements and the purpose and role(s) they serve. In doing so, evaluation serves as a primary support tool for strategy. In order for an evaluation to do its job, it must be aligned with the purpose of the thing it is evaluating.
For example, if an evaluation is being asked to assess behaviour change, the focus of the program or stimuli (e.g., app, message, etc..) for that change is a core part of the strategy. By matching the program components with the activities and intended outcomes, evaluators can help determine the degree of alignment and assess (and advise on) the likelihood of success before any data is collected. It is through the data — the evaluation itself — that this alignment and the assumptions behind it are tested.
Theory into practice
The process of aligning the planned activities with the outcomes is part of what a Theory of Change is designed to do. To illustrate, consider a program designed to promote some kind of behaviour change (e.g. engaging in a new activity, doing more or less of something, etc..). For a change to take place, there needs to be a certain logic in how the intervention (i.e., the activity or service) is set up based on some established design principles.
We also know from the wealth of knowledge of behavioural science, that there are many different ways to promote change and that some are more efficacious than others. A skilled evaluator can help determine whether the approach being used is likely to produce the desired change by building out a Theory of Change and then matching that with the appropriate outcomes.
This is what the heart of a strategy is all about: aligning the resources, intentions, and actions together to produce an outcome.
Like the image above, evaluation helps peel back the top coat to reveal what is happening underneath. It helps take the mystery out of why programs work or don’t work and what the reasons are why people do things (or don’t).
It’s one of the reasons why we bring strategy, evaluation, and design work together. By connecting them, you get far more performance out of your program than if you just keep the cover on.
To learn more, contact us and we’ll be happy to show you what’s under your hood.
Image credit: Nathan Van Egmond