When someone asks what I do, it would be so easy if I could reply that I’m a teacher, waitress, lawyer, belly dancer or refrigerator repairwoman — anything that is self-explanatory and can be summed up in two words or less.
But instead, if I say something like “I do grant writing and evaluation,” the response is almost always “Well, what do you evaluate?” It’s not always easy to come up with a concise answer to that question when its posed to me at a cocktail party or on an elevator.
But if given a few minutes to respond, here is what I would say:
Evaluation can be helpful in many different public and nonprofit settings as well as in business and industry. A few of the many ways that evaluation can be used are to:
- Determine if a program is reaching its desired goals or benefits
- Determine if a program intervention or new policy is working the way it was intended to work
- Assess whether the benefits of a program are worth the investment
- Judge the effectiveness of training programs or human resources policies
- Improve a commercial product or service
If you are a nonprofit, chances are you are getting donations from foundations, corporations and individuals and they are going to wonder how their money is being used. Evaluation is no longer optional or an afterthought. Any competitive grant-funded program needs to be able to clearly demonstrate its effectiveness.
If you are a school, you are evaluated based on factors such as how well your students score on tests and the graduation rates of your students. This information is closely scrutinized and used to make critical decisions.
If you are a company, you need to be constantly evaluating how well your products, services, and company policies are impacting factors such as sales and profits and employee retention rates.
But on an elevator or at a cocktail party, the answer will need to be shorter. So next time someone asks me:
a) I evaluate the extent to which programs, policies and products/services are achieving their intended goals.
b) I measure the impact of program interventions and policies on the betterment of society.
c) I assess the cost-effectiveness and outcomes of programs both in the short-term and over time.
d) I’ll get back to you.
e) All of the above.
What do you think is the best response?