Basic Evaluation Questions

Author: Patrick Parnaby

Implementing the right evaluation plan can guide your project to success.

To begin, you need to ask the right questions. The taste of this donut is more important than its diameter.


You need to know whether your program is meeting your target audience’s needs.


Develop and implement an evaluation plan. The data gathered during the evaluation phase of a project is invaluable when it comes to assessing a program’s effectiveness and perhaps making a case for its expansion. In addition, a sound evaluation plan may help secure external funding. Indeed, a proven track record of evaluation can pave the way for the funding of future projects.

Having charted an overall course for your project, you can guide it to success with a sound evaluation plan.

Techniques for evaluation include surveys, focus groups, candid data, contextual observation, mind maps, paper prototyping, microsurveys, and measuring web site traffic. Several of these techniques can effectively utilize technology to produce superior data and analysis at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.

Sound management practices ensure that resources will be available to conduct a program evaluation and thoughtful planning will all but guarantee that both the quality and quantity of data meet the needs of the project’s stakeholders. With strong analysis, data can be easily communicated to stakeholders who will be more likely to implement the recommendations.


Initiating an evaluation requires a plan that includes a careful needs assessment and a clear set of objectives. This plan will help you determine what you need to know and how to get the information you need in order to draw conclusions and make vital decisions. The plan also acts as your project manager by keeping you and your team on track.

Further, an evaluation should always be planned with utility in mind. If an evaluation’s results are not implemented, then the evaluation was a waste of time and money.

Starting with the right questions can help you focus your evaluation, set objectives, anticipate problems, and manage your resources wisely. Questions to ask when starting an evaluation plan may include:

  • What question(s) am I trying to answer?
  • Who are the stakeholders for this evaluation? Who will be affected by the results? Who will use the results?)
  • What data do I need on order to answer this question and how am I going to interpret the data?
  • What obstacles will I likely encounter while collecting and analyzing the data?
  • What financial and human resources can I bring to this evaluation?
  • What methods should I use?
  • What am I going to do with the results?


  • Worthen, B., Sanders, J. & Fitzpatrick, J. (1997) Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines. (2nd Ed.) New York, NY: Addison, Welsley, & Longman.
  • Patton, M. (1997) Utilization focused evaluation: The new century text. (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation (1994) The program evaluations standards: How to assess evaluations of educational programs. (2nd Ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Patrick Parnaby, a professor of sociology, was the former director of P.F. Consulting & Social Research, a research-based consultancy specializing in survey design and social research.

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