In the last two blog posts, I discussed  why your non-profit needs program evaluation and (hopefully!) cleared up some misconceptions about program evaluation. But, you may be curious about what evaluation approach your program should take.  

Never fear! There are a number of program evaluation types, but it’s important to understand that they fall under two approaches: formative and summative evaluation. This post will describe the two approaches, questions that each approach helps you answer, and will conclude with which approach is best for your non-profit organization.

Formative Evaluation

Formative evaluation is an ongoing process that occurs throughout the program cycle. The greatest benefit of formative evaluation is that it provides you with the opportunity to make changes before the program cycle ends. You do not have to wait until the end of the program cycle to learn that something you were doing didn’t meet your objectives. Formative evaluations are typically for internal purposes only; they’re shared with staff members to help inform the current program cycle.

Here are some questions that a formative evaluation will help you answer:

  • To what extent is our program being implemented as designed?
  • What challenges are we experiencing during program delivery?
  • Do staff have the resources they need to deliver the program with fidelity?

Summative Evaluation

Summative evaluation is completed at the conclusion of your program cycle and provides insight into your program’s effectiveness and/or impact. This type of evaluation provides direction for the future of your program. The summative evaluation is what you’ll share with funders and other external stakeholders.

Here are some questions that a summative evaluation can help you answer:

  • Were the program objectives met?
  • Which program elements were most beneficial to participants?
  • What are the program’s strengths that we want to continue in the future?
  • What are weaknesses that we need to modify or discontinue?

Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself… which evaluation approach should I take? The answer is: both! 🙂 While it may be tempting to focus solely on the summative, please do not neglect the formative. The success of your program absolutely depends on understanding what ultimately happened and what happened along the way.

The chart below gives examples of how you might implement both approaches.