Evaluation is the study of the significance, progress, and/or impact of a grant, project, or program. There are multiple types of evaluation, but MERC focuses on two types: process and outcome. Process, or formative evaluation, takes place during the program, tracking the work being done, providing feedback to assess progress and make improvements, and gathering context to help explain outcomes. Typical process evaluation questions include:
- Was the program implemented as planned (to fidelity)?
- Who received the programming?
- Were the resources adequate?
- What feedback do participants have for improvement?
MERC can also assist with needs assessments, a type of process evaluation. Outcome, or summative evaluation, focuses on whether the program reached its stated goals. Typical outcome questions include:
- What was the impact of the program? Did knowledge, attitudes, perceptions, or behaviors change?
- Who benefited the most or least from the program?
MERC’s evaluation services include proposal development, methodologies to answer the evaluation questions, and support with data collection. The MERC team have expertise in quantitative, qualitative, multi- and mixed-methods, survey design, data visualization, and reporting. We are huge fans of mixed- and multi-method evaluation designs, capturing both breadth and depth. There are many possible approaches to most questions, and our team can discuss the pros and cons of each, including the impact on the budget, timing, and possible results.
We most often act as an external evaluator, but can serve as an internal evaluator, an evaluation consultant, or a social science expert. There are costs and benefits to each of these roles. External evaluators are perceived as being more objective, and may have a broader range of evaluation expertise, and offer additional perspectives. Internal evaluators have a greater, more in-depth understanding of your project, but are often more expensive in terms of time commitment, and lack outside perspective. As a consultant, we usually provide evaluation expertise and recommendations for a short time. We provide social science expertise for projects outside the social sciences who need to understand the interaction between individuals and systems, or group differences in their project outcomes.
We do our best to communicate results in a way that is both accessible and specific to the desired audiences. We strive to report findings using language that is appropriate for the general population, and explain statistics in an easy to understand way. For multi-year projects, we can provide either annual reports or mini-reports about individual activities, and of course, summative reports in the final year. We can create posters, fact sheets or infographics, or presentations to share the results. We have traveled to conferences across the US to help present process and outcome findings.