Program evaluation allows for effective resource allocation, documentation of need, improvement of effectiveness and efficiency, test novel small-scale interventions, address political issues and accountability. The different types of program evaluation are mainly about determining whether or not a program is needed, or being implemented as intended or achieving intended outcomes.
Needs in the context of program evaluation refers to the needs of the clients or participants of a program. There are times when we, as program developers or deliverers believe we understand the needs of a specific group, but in truth we do not. It is therefore important to verify the actual needs of the group.
Implementation has two aspects in program evaluation; the actual implementation and the intended implementation. This is very important in a program because the intended implementation is usually a theoretical one while the actual implementation is a function of the environment, participants, delivery and several other features. It is important to document the actual implementation, to ensure it is being implemented.
Program evaluation is not focused on goal attainment. It is ensuring that the program is in a state to achieve intended goals. Another important aspect of program evaluation and goal attainment is whether or not it is achieving unintended outcomes. Unintended outcomes can have positive or negative effects on participants or the community or other stakeholders.
As a result, program evaluation requires the awareness that all programs are situated within a context, and acknowledgment that the context affects, and is affected by, the existence of this program.
The concept of program evaluation is a simple one, however, in my experience it has required a shift in how I view the world in order to understand and apply the concepts of program evaluation. It also allows you to work in a variety of areas, which appeals to me on a very personal level, as I enjoy learning.
Program evaluation uses many of the same skills as research, but unlike basic research, it is applied; it is adaptable to the realities of working with people in their vast and complex world. It is all about serving the needs of the program and less about being a perfect piece of research. Also, by serving the program, it ends up serving the clients of the program, which, in my opinion, is extremely fulfilling.