Uses of Evaluation

If you watch young cats (not kittens, but in their cat years equivalent to human teenage years), you can see they think evaluatively, plan, gauge, learn and improve their actions. It is essentially the same intent, but it is a jump from there to program evaluation.

Current quantitative methods used in evaluation were developed as tools of applied statistics. If you look closely, much of applied statistics consists of evaluation projects across many fields of application. Current qualitative methods in evaluation were typically developed in the practice of the social sciences. Engineers conducted evaluations in the great water projects. The roots of evaluation are also in strategic intelligence, agricultural experimentation and health studies. Skilled evaluators include business analysts, applied economists, policy analysts, applied psychologists, applied sociologists, engineers, data analysts and data scientists.

Evaluation as we know it today emerged in the United States in the 1960’s from initiatives of the Kennedy administration which was looking to implement technical solutions for social problems. The concept was to think of government implementation as a set of programs, define relevant metrics and improve efficiency and effectiveness. Current forms of policy and program evaluation were developed in the “Great Society” programs of the Johnson administration.

In the 1960’s, evaluation was initially seen as an optimistic technical approach to the solution of social problems; a way to provide relevant feedback for improving policy development, program design and implementation so that programs could be more efficient and more effective. From these innovations, evaluation evolved to become standard institutional practice worldwide.

Usually, evaluations recommend incremental improvements in program design and implementation. In other uses, evaluation provides results to support refining policy and goals. Sometimes evaluation becomes more general applied research. Evaluation provides support to program planners, administrators, managers, legislators, regulatory commissioners and to other stakeholders and attentive publics. Evaluation provides organizational knowledge and program results. It can be used to build relevant knowledge and to strengthen accountability.

For example, evaluations can be used to:

  • Improve program implementation;
  • Improve programs on a more comprehensive level, including planning and design;
  • Improve accountability and performance;
  • Improve specific insight and general knowledge in an area of practice;
  • Improve the cycle of organizational learning in learning organizations. In this sense, evaluation supports increase in intelligence and more successful development.