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Overview of Evaluation Types

Page history last edited by Alexandra Pittman 13 years, 3 months ago

There are two major types of evaluation: process and impact evaluations. 


Process evaluations are typically undertaken when a program is at the beginning stages—

in the first few years of program application or at a time where staff is reflecting on the effectiveness of its implementation mechanisms. Process evaluations assist in developing and fine-tuning the program, targeting weak spots, and in finding its strengths. It is particularly useful in gathering information on the best method to deliver a program, identifying the target group for a particular intervention, or for better understanding the participant’s experiences in order to improve the program.  


On the other hand, impact evaluations are useful when a program has been running for an extended period of time and implementation processes are clear. Impact evaluations aim to show if a program achieved its goals and if changes due to the program can be cited as overall program impact. There is also a comparative element, which illuminates the extent to which a program is “working” and provides evidence of that impact in light of a counterfactual group (who are similar, but have not taken part in the program).[1] 


There are three main forms of program evaluation: formative, summative, and developmental. Formative evaluations typically occur when programs are in development and focus on program processes. Summative evaluations occur at the end of a given intervention or project cycle, focusing on program outcomes.[2] Developmental evaluation focuses on assessment in rapidly changing environments with a primary focus on building long-lasting relationships and design teams to analyze evaluation related questions as programs evolve (Patton 2008). Since developmental evaluation is a less well-known form of evaluation, further information is provided below. 


Developmental evaluation has the following characteristics:

  • Complexity-based, supporting innovation and adaptation
  • Provides feedback, generating learning and direction changes in real time
  • Evolves as new measures and monitoring mechanisms are developed as goals emerge and change
  • Captures system dynamics, interdependencies, and emergent interconnections
  • Aims to develop context-specific understandings to inform ongoing innovations
  • Draws from innovators’ values and commitment to learning as a key to accountability
  • Enhances ability to respond to things out of program control, stay in touch with developments on the ground, and to respond strategically 


Developmental evaluation differs from formative or summative evaluations in that the aim is not program improvement or to demonstrate that a program has been impactful at the closure of a program. Instead, developmental evaluations serve an integral leadership function, which includes a results- and learning-oriented approach to testing program or organizational realities. Other names commonly used include real time, emergent, action, or adaptive evaluation. See graph below.



Chart reproduced from Patton (2008). 


[1] Bond Sally L., Sally E. Boyd,Kathleen A. Rapp, Jacqueline B. Raphael and Beverly A. Sizemore. 1997. “Taking Stock. A Practical Guide to Evaluating your Own Programs.” Horizon Research Inc.

[2] Savedoff, William D., Ruth Levine, and Nancy Birdsall 2006. “When Will We Ever Learn? Improving Lives through Impact Evaluation.” Center for Global Development.



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