One of the things that I like best about evaluation is that there’s no specific formula to get the job done, and although there are tried-and-true methods and best practices (like the National Institutes of Health’s Best Practices for Mixed Methods Research in the Health Sciences), evaluators have the ability to be flexible and work with stakeholders to design an efficacious evaluation that meets everyone’s needs.
Even as I enjoy the freedom to tailor evaluations to the needs of clients, I find it helpful to have a set of guidelines or a framework to fall back on. Because I’m trained in public health, my favorite framework – based on familiarity and ease of use – is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Framework for Program Evaluation. The framework organizes the basic steps and standards of program evaluation into an easy to use form:
What I really like about this graphic is the illustration of the program evaluation process as a cyclical process, with the standards at the center of everything. The visual fits my personal beliefs about evaluation: that it should be ongoing and should always revolve around these set standards of practice.
As far as the listed standards, these groupings include 30 sub-standards set in place by the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation.
I strive to keep them in mind throughout the evaluation process and while connecting with clients and program stakeholders:
- Utility standards help to ensure that evaluation results will be useful to stakeholders, and that they fulfill the needs of users.
- Feasibility standards are in place to help evaluators design an evaluation that is “realistic, prudent, diplomatic and frugal.”
- Propriety standards concern legal and ethical aspects of evaluation and research, as well as ensure that the welfare of those involved in the evaluation (or who stand to be affected by the results) is protected.
- Accuracy standards ensure that evaluation results will present an accurate picture of the program and its operations, especially any features that help to determine the “worth or merit” of the program.
While there’s no real benefit to using this framework over another, and many organizations develop their own framework or set of guidelines for evaluation, I find the CDC framework incredibly useful in guiding my evaluation work. Additionally, I believe that the focus on the standards of evaluation helps to promote transparency, which is a fundamental method of operation here at ACET.
What do you think of the CDC’s framework? Is it too simple? Too convoluted? Does it help you better visualize the evaluation process? We’d love to hear your reactions in the comments!