Starting this month, Sun Associates will have the unique opportunity to put to the test the idea that meaningful change takes time. As the external evaluator of a new seven-year project focusing on a specific cohort of Fitchburg, MA middle school students, we are starting what promises to be a fascinating journey.
Our recent experience evaluating the development and implementation of a powerful new digital resource from the Boston Public Library's Norman B. Leventhal Map Center brings to mind the need to balance the exciting potential of visionary resources with present day limits on teacher and student technology access. We encounter this issue in many of projects we evaluate and in the school districts as well as informal educational organizations where we work. The evaluation process can provide a way for striking a balance between visionary expectations and the realities of the here and now.
Regardless of your project’s scope, there are a few good common sense steps that your team can take to set the stage for effective evaluation. Planning effectively for project evaluation involves making time for discussing and clarifying your project goals, defining expectations - indicators - for project outcomes, and giving some thought as to what data you want to collect to document those outcomes. Get started on that process with some simple tools for identifying discussion participants and starting to clarify goals and indicators.
Uncovering, clarifying, and creating the goals that underlie projects before implementation begins is a necessary first step in planning for how your project team will explain the outcomes of your project work. This process starts with spending time to reflect upon - and document - the connections between the work that you do and the outcomes that you expect.
Before you just use data collection tools wholesale, take a little time to think about 1) what you really want and need to know, and 2) how you might edit various tools to meet your needs. Considering these issues is in fact part of a process for creating and conducting effective program evaluations and audits.