Dispelling Some Evaluation Myths
There is a belief among some that evaluating programs may not be the most efficient use of time and resources. Five common myths surrounding evaluations are worth debunking:
Myth 1: It is sufficient to implement a program without evaluating it.
Programs that have not been evaluated do not carry much weight. Evaluation is the only way to demonstrate that a particular approach or initiative has been successful. This is not to say that unevaluated programs do not make a positive impact, but lack of evaluation invites claims that the effort is not worthwhile and deprives program sponsors and researchers of data that could help development of future interventions.
Myth 2: It is better to spend resources on running initiatives than on evaluation.
Although resources may be scarce, and it may be tempting to focus exclusively on implementation, no intervention is complete without proper evaluation. A single well-evaluated intervention that can be supported by evidence as to its effectiveness can be more valuable than several initiatives that have no evaluation. The latter may leave potential stakeholders guessing as to whether the initiatives worked or what lessons can be learned for developing new programs.
Myth 3: Since there is already evidence to show that different types of initiatives (e.g., drink-drive countermeasures, social norms campaigns, and brief interventions) can be effective, there is no need to evaluate each new program individually.
Evidence of past success is a strong argument in favor of choosing a particular approach or type of intervention. However, just because a certain approach has worked in the past does not mean that it will work again: Social context, conditions, target groups, and many other factors are likely to be different in each case. Therefore, any intervention should be evaluated in its own right—this is the only way to demonstrate whether it has actually worked in a particular setting.
Myth 4: Evaluation is too complicated and requires the involvement of outside experts.
Evaluating a program simply means asking the right questions and gathering the information in a structured way. This can be done by an outside expert, but there are also simple evaluations that can be conducted internally. The choice of which evaluation to use depends on several considerations, including available resources and the complexity of the issue at hand. This is discussed in Types of Evaluation.
Myth 5: Evaluation only shows whether an intervention has succeeded or failed.
While determining success or failure is certainly one of the main purposes of evaluation, many other things can be learned. An evaluation allows prevention efforts to be improved so that they can be implemented more effectively in the future. If an evaluation is framed correctly and asks the right questions, it can uncover a lot of additional and valuable information.