Painted footstepsEvaluations are typically used to provide feedback on events, pilot projects, services and programs. While there are many different types of evaluations, the most common is used to address the question “was the … successful”.  But what is the real value of an evaluation? By definition it is a decision making tool.  To me, it is also an invaluable tool for learning how to learn.

Unfortunately, and all too often, evaluation exercises are dreaded as an extra task; a condition of program funding to demonstrate that intended audiences were reached, tasks were completed and objectives were achieved.  What would happen if in your next evaluation exercise, you asked the question “What can we learn” as your main objective?  What if, at the end of the evaluation, you could say “I didn’t see that before”, or “hmmm”, or “How fascinating”!

Good evaluators elicit information on what works, what doesn’t and why. But that’s not all. They also offer recommendations for change or improvement. If an evaluation is included in the planning phase and applied throughout the project or program, it can be an important component of a continuous improvement process.

Imagine for a moment how your evaluations might be used to support and propel your organization’s mandate. Fascinating insights can become valuable resources if they are used to make adjustments, create innovations or rethink your goals. More importantly, adopting an iterative practice of designing, implementing, evaluating and adjusting can create an even more valuable resource – the ability to learn and develop new patterns for success.

What could your next program evaluation achieve beyond the final report?