Alcohol Education Guide
to Reducing Harmful Drinking

Evaluation Caveats and Pitfalls

Although evaluations are essential in determining whether a program has really worked, they are not always welcomed for several reasons:

1.  Evaluation Carries Risks

Although this is not a desirable result, an evaluation may show that a program did not have its intended effect. It may show unexpected outcomes or impact that may not be as positive as expected. 

However, unanticipated outcomes may actually be useful and should be included and reported. Not only is open and honest reporting of all results scientifically ethical and in the spirit of transparency, but unexpected outcomes may contain important lessons: 

  • They can be an indication that the assumptions upon which the program was based were wrong.
  • They can also be a sign that the program may not have been delivered properly and that there was a flaw in the design.
  • Unexpected results can also indicate that the data were not collected in the proper way. 

It is, therefore, important to look carefully at any negative or unexpected outcomes and identify what may have gone wrong. This will help with future design in the event that the program is repeated.

2.  Results May Not Be Transferable

Not all approaches to prevention are easily transferable across cultures and to different settings.

  • It is important to understand what is likely to resonate with a particular audience and what may be understood to be culturally acceptable. 

It is also important to anticipate which approaches are likely to work and which may be doomed to failure.

  • For example, implementing an intervention that relies on printed material where there is a high rate of illiteracy is not likely to be successful. 
  • Similarly, an intervention that relies on abstinence from drinking in a culture where alcohol consumption is well integrated into daily life is not likely to resonate well with the target audience.


3.  Evaluation May Compete for Tight Resources

Evaluations are labor-intensive and require an investment of human and financial resources. Therefore, they may interfere with program activities and may require a trade-off with the actual delivery of the program.

However, careful planning can reduce evaluation costs.

  • Integrating evaluation into the design and execution of the program can be helpful. This positions the evaluation as an integral part of the process and delivery, rather than as an interference.


In the long run, long-term benefits of proper evaluation will outweigh any short-term costs.