When you talk about evaluation, the first thing many people ask is "how are we going to measure results?" That, to an evaluator, is sort of the last thing that they get to. The question that I want to know is what are you trying to do? Why are you trying to do it? Until we can get at that, getting to measure the results is kind of putting the cart before the horse. And then, of course, most people view evaluation negatively. Who wants to be evaluated?
But, the real issue is how do we understand the world around us? Evaluation is a central mechanism and inherent part of asking "what's going on here? Why is it going on the way it is going on?"
Imagine trying to drive your car without windows and you can imagine what a world without evaluation would be like. We think of evaluation as a form of looking ahead and providing feedback, much like a driver who decides which roads to take and is alert to roadblocks or other obstacles. Without evaluation, program managers are much like a blind driver. Evaluation systems enable managers to look forward. Evaluation provides them with feedback about how things are working, as well as whether or not things are working as desired. In other words, evaluation is essential to learning. We cannot have learning in our society unless we have the basic input about what's happening around us.
When we are born, we each are born with senses. We are each born with a nervous system. We are each born with a central processing unit that processes that stuff. But when organizations or groups are born, they don't have that stuff. We have to create the feedback mechanism. And therein is the central systems issue. Organizations need to create the systems that are the senses in order to sense what's around us, transmit that information accurately, and process that information. Evaluation is one of the central functions of an organization. So, evaluation is not just done at the end of a project — rather like looking in the rearview mirror. Evaluation is an integral part of an organization's planning, management, and assessment.
However, the validity of evaluation that has been conducted has rarely been challenged. This website provides information about our research activities — evaluation of evaluation — as well as basic information and resources for evaluators.