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AEA/CDC Training session: Utilization-Focused Evaluation

Posted by on July 1st, 2009 Posted in: Practical Evaluation

AEA/CDC Training session: Utilization-focused evaluation

The first training session I took at the AEA/CDC Institute was Michael Patton’s Utilization-Focused Evaluation.  This workshop was pitched primarily for evaluators who are sick of producing time-consuming evaluation report tombs that sit on shelves. (You’re thinking I should have written “evaluation report tomes,” but actually, those reports are where evaluation results go to die.)  Patton commented that you could probably attach an executive report to 500 sheets of blank paper – or 500 pages from a phone book pulled from your recycling bin – and no one would ever notice because they never read past the executive summary.

Here’s some interesting food for thought: Patton said that the order of the evaluation standards (Utility, Feasibility, Propriety, and Accuracy) is deliberate: Utility, or usefulness to intended users, is listed first because it’s deemed the most important. So, in evaluation design, the evaluation’s usefulness should be considered ahead of its feasibility (practicality and cost effectiveness), propriety (legality, ethics, and concern for the welfare of others), and accuracy (technically adequate information about features that determine merit or worth of a program). All are important standards, but utility gets top ranking. (Definitions for the four evaluation standards are listed here at the American Evaluation Association web site.)

To enhance the utility of evaluation findings, Patton said it is important to identify the intended users and uses of the evaluation information at the beginning of the evaluation and create an action plan for use of evaluation results that takes the following into account:

·         The decisions the evaluation findings are meant to inform

·         Timing of those decisions

·         The stakeholders who will see and respond to the data

The responsibility for facilitating use of the findings falls on the evaluation consultant (or whoever is in charge of conducting the evaluation.)

If you are interested in learning how to conduct more useful evaluations, I recommend Patton’s Utilization-Focused Evaluation (2008, Sage), which is now in its 4th edition.

Image of the author ABOUT Cindy Olney
Cindy Olney is the Assistant Director of the NNLM Evaluation Office. She leads NNLM's evaluation efforts, designs evaluation methods, and guides analysis and reporting of evaluation findings.

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