What is Evaluation? (Canadian Society of Evaluation)

Systematic assessment of the design, implementation or results of an initiative for the purposes of learning or decision-making. 

Systematic: It should be as systematic and impartial as possible (UNEG, 2005). It is methodical, providing information that is credible, reliable, and useful to enable the incorporation of lessons learned into decision-making process of users and funders (OECD, 2010). It is based on empirical evidence and typically on social research methods, thus on the process of collecting and synthesizing evidence (Rossi Lipsey and Freeman, 2004). Conclusions made in evaluations encompass both an empirical aspect and a normative aspect (Fournier, 2005). It is the value feature that distinguishes evaluation from other types of enquiry such as basic science research, clinical epidemiology, investigative journalism, or public polling.

Assessment: It considers value, merit, worth, significance or quality (Scriven, 1991).  It identify what works, for whom, in what respects, to what extent, in what contexts, and how (Pawson and Tilley, 2004). It examines expected and achieved accomplishments, the results chain, processes, contextual factors and causality in order to understand achievements or the lack thereof (UNEG, 2005). It may focus on a broad range of topics including relevance, accessibility, comprehensiveness, integration, fulfillment of objectives, effectiveness, impact, cost, efficiency, and sustainability (Patton, 1997; OECD, 2010). The evaluation process normally involves some identification of relevant standards, some investigation of performance on these standards, and some integration or synthesis of the results to achieve an overall evaluation (Scriven, 1991; OECD, 2010).

Initiatives: It can focus on any kind of initiative such as programs, projects, sub-programs, sub-projects, and/or their components or elements (Yarbrough et al, 2011; Scriven, 2003).

Purposes: It can be conducted for the purposes of decision making, judgements, conclusion, findings, new knowledge, organizational development and capacity building in response to the needs of identified stakeholders leading to improvement, decisions about future programming, and/or accountability ultimately informing social action ameliorating social problems and contributing to organizational or social value (Yarbrough et al, 2011; Patton, 1997).

 

What is Evaluation? (USA)
It is a systematic process to determine merit, worth, value or significance. So what does that mean in practice? Let’s use one kind of evaluation, program evaluation, to illustrate. Programs and projects of all kinds aspire to make the world a better place. Program evaluation answers questions like: To what extent does the program achieve its goals? How can it be improved? Should it continue? Are the results worth what the program costs? Program evaluators gather and analyze data about what programs are doing and accomplishing to answer these kinds of questions.

A program evaluation has to be designed to be appropriate for the specific program being evaluated. Health programs aim to make people healthier and prevent disease. School programs strive to increase student learning. Employment training programs try to help the unemployed get jobs. Homelessness initiatives work to get people off the streets and into safe housing. Chemical dependency programs help people using alcohol and drugs. Community development programs plan initiatives to increase prosperity among those in poverty. Juvenile diversion programs try to keep kids out of jail and put them on a path to becoming productive adults. For each kind of program, an evaluation would gather and analyze data about that program’s effectiveness. But program evaluation is only one kind of evaluation.