Program Evaluation: Is It Really That Hard? ©
By Dr. Vanessa S. OíNeal
Often times as a grant reviewer at the Federal level, I find that the scores for a grant proposal could be a lot higher than they are, but there are always two areas that seem to trouble the grant writer. 1) Budget and 2) Program Evaluation.
Letís start with program evaluation. Understand that the program evaluation is a vital component in the grant proposal because it tells the funders how you are going to determine the success or failure of the program.
The biggest mistake grant writers make when it comes to the evaluation is underestimating how much power this section has and how important it is. In order to understand the power behind it you have to understand the need for it. It is the measurement of something, in this case, your program or components of your program. It tells the funder how well the program is doing, if the program needs changing or even if the program needs to cease.
In the grant proposal, the grant writer must fully articulate how and what the evaluation is going to measure.
Program evaluations can be conducted externally by a contractor or internally. Most Federal grants will allow you up to 15% of the total amount requested to contract professional services. Ensure that the contracted source will give you this evaluation in writing so that it can be used in your written grant proposal. For those who conduct the evaluations internally your proposal should include:
1. State what you are going to be evaluating. One of the biggest issues surrounding the low scores in this area is the objective of the evaluation is not clearly stated. If you are measuring the total number of people in attendance then state that. If you are measuring frequency of attendance then state that.
2. Define evaluation method. Make sure that the method of evaluation you use fits the program. Many times the method is a good method it is just not good for your program. An example of this is surveys. Surveys are wonderful but only beneficial to your program if you are looking for general information. By nature, they cannot provide in-depth information like most programs need. Believe it or not the survey method is the one that most grant writers use and they lose points because of it. Not because they are using the survey method, but because in many cases it is the only method being used and, in others, because the survey does not really fit the program being evaluated.
Each program should have at least three methods of evaluation. For a program like an after school program, they would need to know: Attendance, frequency of attendance, and academic performance before and after a period of time. The grant proposal should indicate the evaluation criteria and frequency of measurement of that criteria (for example: monthly, quarterly and annual basis).
3. Programs strengths & weaknesses. The purpose of the evaluation is to measure how well the program is doing, if you have chosen the right evaluation method. Carrying on with the example in the previous section, an after school program has a reading, math and English component. In your evaluation of the academic performance you find that out of 30 children only 5 had actually increased their grades in English, but the other two disciplines identified an increase of at least 25 children. Obviously, there is something not quite right with the English component. You must now find out what.
When articulating this in your grant proposal, simply state how you are going to go about identifying the programs strengths & weaknesses. A survey would not give you this information. I would suggest examining the English program itself, the instructor, whether the information is adaptable to individual childrenís needs and comprehension levels, etc.
4. How you will use the information. The information that you gather from your evaluations should be gathered regularly. How regularly depends on the program. Some programs should evaluate on a monthly basis. Others on a quarterly basis, but ALL programs should evaluate annually.
The information that is gathered should be used for reporting as well as for addressing inadequacies. The information obtained through the evaluation will help you to build your annual report and, if the correct method is used, you should be able to find the troubled area(s) in the program, make modifications and increase the programís level of success.
The biggest mistake is when the proposal never states that the information obtained through evaluation can or will be used for the forecasting of the next yearís programs, or that the information that has already been obtained is used to show the need for the current proposal. This information is often overlooked and it can be costly.
5. Reporting method. Again, each program should be evaluated for reporting purposes at least once (annually) but, whatever your reporting method is going to be, it needs to be stated in your grant proposal.
Although the above suggestions are not in any particular order they are all very important. Adding these statements can increase your grading by at least 10 points depending on the grading system. To some it may seem trivial but to others, it can mean funding.
Dr. Vanessa S. OíNeal is the President/CEO of In-Tegral ESCF, Inc., Founder of the National Society of Grant Writing Professionals, Inc. and the author of Grant Me The Money: The Practical Guide To Successful Grant Writing Practice.