Improve Program with Evaluation Findings
One of the most significant benefits that a program evaluation communicates is the need to make improvements.
When Evaluations Indicate Program Improvement is Needed…
Many needed forms of improvements are possible based on the unique configuration of resources, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts of the program (see How to Create a Logic Model).
Examples of the types of improvements that an evaluation may reveal could include:
- The elimination of program services and activities that do not achieve program outcomes
- The addition of other services and activities that are better designed to achieve outcomes
- Acquiring more adequate resources to support program services and activities
- Target a different group of participants to receive program services because there are an inadequate number of specified participants available to receive services
These and/or other types of program improvements that are revealed by the evaluation findings should be viewed and communicated as an opportunity to make the program better.
- Evaluation results that indicate the need for improvement should not be communicated as an indictment of the failure of the program
- An excitement should be generated about the possibilities of developing an even stronger set of program offerings and improving already successful efforts
- An action plan should be developed and communicated to implement the improvements
Designing an Improvement Action Plan
The action plan for improving the program should be based on the evaluation findings, and it should also have the following characteristics:
- Be Very Specific
- Be Manageable in Size
- Be Measurable
To meet these basic criteria, the action plan should include at least the following four elements:
- Task-Specific Suggestions
- A Timeline for Completion
- An Appointed Point Person
- A Clear Set of Criteria to Evaluate Success
An action plan is “action” oriented, and the directives set forth in the plan should be very specific and focused on achieving a targeted goal.
The following is an example of a task-specific suggestion:
- The program evaluation may suggest that connecting with parents on a more consistent basis is needed, and that parents like to use technology.
- In response to this finding, the evaluation team may decide to focus on parent connections in a more directed way by creating an electronic parent informational newsletter.
- The task-specific suggestion is the creation of the newsletter as the specific action or “to do” item.
Timeline for Completion
Creating a timeline for completion of an improvement action plan will help evaluation team members organize themselves and provide a framework for moving through the tasks listed on the action plan.
As the timeline is being created, consider the timing of the tasks in relation to the amount of work that needs to be done.
- One possible way to develop the timeline is to “begin at the end.”
- If the plan is to have a constituent newsletter in place by March 15th, questions like the following need to be answered:
- What needs to happen by March 1st in order to get the final draft to the web designer to format the newsletter layout?
- What needs to happen in February and January?
- Also, consider what other priorities from other projects coincide with the tasks in the improvement action plan during this time?
The ultimate point is to be realistic about the timeline for the improvement action plan.
- Add in extra time in case the project runs late, or there are unexpected changes that slow the action item progress.
- Include timing for “post” action follow-up.
- Include time as well for reflecting and evaluating the outcomes of the action item.
An Appointed Point Person
Appoint a task leader to manage the improvement action plan.
- Every project needs a leader to:
- Move the group through the action item process
- Keep the team on task
- Monitor the improvement action plan timeline (see Timeline for Completion)
- The role of the leader/facilitator regarding each action item needs to be clearly defined.
- Using someone from an outside agency can be an option if a staff member is not available to serve as the project leader.
A Clear Set of Criteria to Evaluate Success
As with any improvement plan, it is necessary to identify a set of criteria that will help you understand and prove the success of the program improvement efforts.
- After the action items have been developed, review the target goals of the improvement plan and identify measurements for success.
- When developing these success measures, be sure to be realistic.
- Perhaps it is reasonable to expect that in the first year of a program, 70% of community college students will transfer to a four-year institution.
- However, it is unlikely that 100% of students who participate will meet that objective.
- Although realism is being encouraged, also be optimistic about what action items can and should achieve.
See these other sections in the Evaluation Toolkit for additional guidelines on how to create the success measurements: