Have you ever wondered why evaluation findings sometimes do not get used in making programmatic decisions? Yes, we all have, and we can produce several reasons. This was the focus of our Data Into Practice presentation at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP). The NCCEP conference is an opportunity for GEAR UP program staff and evaluators to come together and share research and best practices.
Data into Practice or Evaluation Use refers to the extent to which evaluation findings, recommendations, and insights are used to make data-informed decisions and implement effective program strategies or changes to drive desired outcomes. Frankly, evaluation use often needs to be facilitated and embedded in the evaluation process. According to Patton (2013), evaluations should be judged by their utility and actual use. Evaluation use is about how real people in the real world apply evaluation findings and experience and learn from the evaluation process. It is important to note that evaluation use can and should occur at various levels – individual, site level, or grant-wide. The goal of evaluation use is to improve program effectiveness, improve decision-making processes, and foster learning and accountability.
At Xcalibur, we are deliberate about how our clients actively engage with and experience the evaluation process and findings. We operationalize this using a participatory evaluation model. This approach to evaluation engages stakeholders in the evaluation process, with emphasis on collaboration, inclusivity, and empowerment. The goal of the approach is to generate increased buy-in and use of the evaluation findings.
Evaluation use is an ongoing cycle that requires a commitment to data-driven decision-making and a continuous improvement culture. Thus, evaluation use should not happen only at the end of a program, it should occur at every stage of the program to be deemed “Data into Practice.” The responsibility to ensure evaluation use lies in the hands of both the grant leadership and the evaluators, hence the need for collaboration in all phases of the evaluation process.
In time, grant evaluation findings can have broader impact and influence policy in schools, districts, and/or state. At such a time, we can claim to have evaluation influence where evaluation findings transcend immediate application and utilization but have broader and long-term impact to create a more significant and sustainable impact. In summary, evaluation use focuses on the immediate application and utilization of evaluation findings, and contributes to learning, accountability, and program improvement in various contexts.