Nonprofits competing for limited funding opportunities must demonstrate their impact. This is why program evaluation techniques that examine outcomes and identify opportunities for process improvements are key to success. Learn how to take an evidence-based approach to evaluating program effectiveness in human and social services with these five approaches.
Program managers regularly assess the impact of their work and strive for continual improvement. Unlike periodic, informal reviews, program evaluation is systematic and conducted based on guidelines. Typically program effectiveness is measured by five core variables:
Program efficiency and use of resources
The ability to prove positive outcomes aligned with your organization’s actions
Evaluating programs based on these factors helps leadership define and hone program goals, demonstrate accountability and results for funders and policymakers, and identify room for growth or change.
Keys to Evaluating and Improving Program Effectiveness
1. Engage Your Organization’s Stakeholders
Begin your program evaluation by checking in with your stakeholders – the individual and external individuals or organizations that have an interest in what you do. Your stakeholders will have differing ideas regarding your organization’s goals, purpose, and approaches. Focus your discussions and surveys with stakeholders around these key themes:
What need are we addressing?
What change do we want to see?
What activities will we complete to make that change occur?
What resources will we use?
How mature is our program?
What external factors will effect our program’s success? (Competition, Political, Legal, Social, Environmental, and Economic factors)
2. Define Your Organization’s Theory of Change
Once you’ve consulted with your stakeholders, begin focusing your evaluation design by clarifying your organization’s mission. The “theory of change” framework helps clarify where you want to invoke change through direct services, and how you want to make that change happen.
If your organization measures positive change on an individual scale, for example by helping someone overcome homelessness, then your theory of change must address the program’s fidelity, efficiency, and reproducibility among a scalable population of individuals. However, if your organization is focused more on invoking systemic changes, then your theory of change will focus more on cumulative impact and tying results back to specific elements of your program.
3. Develop a Logic Model
Logic models build on your theory of change and flesh out a strategic outlook, or roadmap that aligns specific goals with tactics. Logic models are typically laid out in sequences of events and key milestones – often displayed in a flow chart, table, or gantt chart to portray how individual steps connect to top-level priorities.
Remember: Logic models are a hypothesized sequence of events that help align program elements. Aspects of your model may change over time, and that’s okay, and long as you’re documenting the changes.
Creating a logic model helps team members and leadership clarify strategic priorities, and when it’s time to evaluate your program, a systematic and well-organized plan helps your organization demonstrate causality: Your plan is indeed working, versus external factors playing in your favor.
4. Select Your Evaluation Framework
How do you know that your program is really working? When you begin to develop your program, ask yourself these value-based questions:
What is being evaluated? (Refer back to your Theory of Change)
What variables should I analyze to gauge performance? (Measurable Outcomes, Costs, Efficiency, Attribution of Success)
What evidence will I use to demonstrate how well my program has performed?
What standards must be reached for my program to be deemed a success?
How will I implement lessons learned after the program is evaluated in future programming?
As you carry through your program, ask yourself these questions periodically to ensure that your organization is held accountable and continually striving toward its goals.
5. Finally, Gather Credible Evidence
This is where finding the right software to track qualitative and quantitative meaningful outcomes while documenting human services cases comes in handy. CaseWorthy’s customizable platform easily facilitates reporting, allowing for seamless information sharing among case managers and care team members. The platform also delivers a holistic view of an individual’s mental, behavioral, and physical well-being so case managers can quickly evaluate program efficacy and stay on course.
CaseWorthy Software makes program evaluation and reporting a breeze.
Export custom or templated reports to evaluate compliance, budgeting, personnel resources and time, as well as macro- and micro- program data trends.