Data vs. Information

In a recent technical assistance online meeting, I was talking with several community groups about various data collection and analysis related to their program implementation and intended outcomes. I raised the importance of sifting through all the various data in order to extract actionable information useful for the program staff, community stakeholders, and intended beneficiaries of the program. I was reminded of a past blog post from Seth Godin that I shared with them. Quite succinctly, he reminds us about the importance of disseminating evaluation findings that can both be understood and story-like.

When there’s simply data, it’s all noise. It’s impossible for a human being to absorb data without a narrative.

Once we figure out how to turn your features and ideas and benefits and effort into a story, though, it becomes information. And then we can act on it.

We have a story problem. All of us do. We’re not doing a good job of developing the empathy to turn all the data we’ve assembled into a story that others can understand.

Programming and Domains of Evaluation Questions

In Developing Monitoring and Evaluation Frameworks, Markiewicz and Patrick (2016) laid out the relationship of program development and implementation to five domains of evaluation questions. In doing so, they’ve contributed to the discussion in the previous post about what evaluation is for. At the very least, drilling down the domains of evaluation questions alter the types of program decisions to be considered and answered.

The following table, adapted from their work, summarizes the five domains of evaluation questions aligned to five program components.

Program Component Domains of Evaluation Questions Description of Domains
Planning and designAssessing the appropriateness of the program’s design-Suitability of program design in context
-Fit of program with program theory and/or logic
-Testing of underlying assumptions
-Extent program meets the priorities and needs of key stakeholders
Objectives Assessing program effectiveness in meeting it’s objectives, its value, and quality – Fidelity of implementation
-Achievement of program objectives
-Assessment of the quality and value of the program
ImplementationExamining efficiency and fidelity in program implementation-Conversion of inputs to outputs and outputs to results
-Governance and management
ResultsEstablishing impact: intended and unintended, and the degree to which change is attributable to the program-Changes (results) produced by the program, intended and unintended, direct and indirect
Sustainability of resultsIdentifying ongoing sustainable benefits from the program-Continuation of program benefits

Why Evaluation?

In a recent blog post published during the AEA 2019 Conference, Cameron Norman, initiated a list of things that evaluation is for. Recalling this list was helpful during a recent family gathering when I was asked about work. Rather than focus on the means of evaluation, I found myself talking more about the ends of evaluation which coincided with many of the things on his list shared below. Evaluation is for…

  • Decision making
  • Seeing the future
  • Design and innovation
  • Asking better questions
  • Creating conversation
  • Speaking truth to power
  • Honoring our work
  • Learning
  • Leading system change
  • Telling stories about who we are as a people
  • Promoting health and preventing harm
  • Reinforcing democratic ideals
  • Provoking curiosity
  • Recognizing humanity

Make sure to check out Cameron’s blog post that elaborates on each of these.

Designing Mathematics Assessments

Using released items from state and national mathematics assessments can be helpful in designing a grade level assessment instrument for students to be used as one source of data in the evaluation of teacher professional development or student mathematics interventions.

The list below identifies sources of released assessment items that might be aligned with the content of your program. This list will be updated as additional sources are identified.

New York State Department of Education Released 2017 Grades 3-8 ELA and Mathematics State Test Questions

New York State Department of Education Released 2016 Grades 3-8 ELA and Mathematics State Test Questions

PARCC Released Items

NAEP Released Items / NAEP Questions Tool Take a look at this Facebook video for help in using the tool.

Once a pool of items are established, you’ll need to consider next steps to ensure the validity and reliability of the assessment.

Defining a Program

What makes a program a program?

A recent webinar led by Boris Volkov hosted by AEA’s Organizational Learning & Evaluation Capacity Building Topic Interest Group gave me pause to think about important qualities of a program.  His talk titled From Purist to Pragmatist: Expanding Our Approaches to Building Evaluation Capacity opened with a shared definition of program, evaluation, and program evaluation. He used the CDC (2011) definition that states:

A program is any set of organized activities supported by a set of resources to achieve a specific and intended result (p. 3)

Inherent in this rather broad definition are three important moving parts:

  1. Set of resources (inputs)
  2. Set of organized activities (activities described by outputs)
  3. Specific and intended result (outcomes and impacts)

Each of these provide parameters that define and focus a program and its evaluation. Yet, embedded in the definition are the qualifiers- organized, specific, and intended. Activities must have some sort of underlying organization. Perhaps the activities are organized developmentally, sequenced by difficulty, or arranged in some manner as a result of previous research. Results must be specific and intended. That is, there is a desired end that can be clearly articulated so as to justify the means.

A program exists when the qualifiers (organized, specific, and intended) are understood and there is a logical relationship between resources, activities, and outcomes. This logical arrangement is often described in a program’s logic model. Without understood qualifiers and an articulated logic, a program is not a program, but rather a loose set of activities.

Evaluating Change

Programs are designed and implemented to create change, often throughout multiple levels of a program; but at the very basic level, change occurs in individuals. Quoting Albert Wenger, “change creates information.” Information about changes that occurred during a program is essential to evaluate a program.

According to Radhakrishna and Relado (2009), a program might influence change in a program participant’s knowledge, attitude, skills, aspirations (KASA), and behavior. Another common set of individual outcomes called KAP include knowledge, attitudes, and practices (for example, see Chaplowe (2008)). At their intersection, changes in:

  • what participants understand (knowledge),
  • what participants use to base their decisions (attitudes/beliefs), and
  • what participants eventually enact (practices/behaviors)

lead to useful information about the potential impact of a program.


Scheduling Evaluation Interviews

Interviewing multiple individuals for a project is time consuming and scheduling those interviews also can be time consuming. There are several online applications that can match available interview times between interviewers and interviewees; however, I created an easy, quick, and no-cost system to schedule interview times using a Google Doc as described below.

I created a Google Doc that listed available day/times I was available for interviews. This Google Doc was shared with all interviewees at the same time using a shared link giving them permission to view but not edit the online document.

I easily and quickly edited the online document with days/times that became available or unavailable as my time commitments changed. At some level, using a Google Doc in this manner was a quick way to develop an instant website describing my availability. I used an email similar to the one below to share this process with those I was planning to interview.

Hi Dana,

[Opening Intro]

I’d like to schedule an hour phone conversation to talk with you about [name of program].

This online document suggests several day/time possibilities. Please reply to this email with your preferred choices. If none will work, please suggest a couple others. I’ll confirm in a return email.

I’m really looking forward to talking with you about [name of program].



Program Evaluation Tiers

The Harvard Family Research Project offers several useful evaluation resources. The guide Afterschool Evaluation 101: How to Evaluate an Expanded Learning Program is one of their valuable resources useful to provide non-evaluators an overview of program evaluation. The guide is organized around nine steps:

  1. Determine the evaluation’s purpose
  2. Developing a logic model
  3. Assessing your program’s capacity for evaluation
  4. Choosing the focus of your evaluation
  5. Selecting the evaluation design
  6. Collecting data
  7. Analyzing data
  8. Presenting evaluation results
  9. Using evaluation data

Evaluations vary as much as programs do (i.e., different activities, duration, outcomes, et cetera) underscoring the importance of wisely choosing the focus of an evaluation. Step 4 in the guide “Choosing the focus of your evaluation” describes a five tier approach that is summarized below (pages 13-16). Determining an appropriate evaluation focus is largely dependent on a program’s maturity and developmental stage.

  • Tier 1- Conduct a needs assessment to address how the program can best meet needs
  • Tier 2- Document program services to understand how program services are being implemented
  • Tier 3- Clarify the program to see if the program is being implemented as intended
  • Tier 4- Make program modifications to improve the program
  • Tier 5- Assess program impact to demonstrate program effectiveness

As you can see, evaluation can and should coincide with a program throughout its lifespan. These tiers are useful to help design an evaluation plan and to determine appropriate methods of data collection and analysis.

Evaluating Positive Youth Development (PYD)

Out of school programming often seeks to develop children’s’ outcomes beyond those purely academic. Working with program leaders to align program activities/goals with specific outcomes can be a challenge. In many cases, program activities are determined prior determining program outcomes. In these instances, understanding components of positive youth development can be useful to reflect on the relationship and alignment of program activities and program outcomes.

First, the Oregon State University 4-H Youth Development Program developed a Positive Youth Development Inventory (PYDI) intended to assess PYD changes in students ages 12-18. The collection of 55 Likert scale items measures the latent constructs of:

  1. Confidence
  2. Competence
  3. Character
  4. Caring
  5. Connection
  6. Contribution

Second, The Colorado Trust developed the Toolkit for Evaluating Positive Youth Development containing survey administration guidance and pre-post and post-only instruments that examine 8 sets of outcomes or domains that include:

  1. Academic success
  2. Arts and recreation
  3. Community involvement
  4. Cultural competency
  5. Life skills
  6. Positive life choices
  7. Positive core values
  8. Sense of self

Both resources above were initially designed for students in Grade 4 or higher. Please indicate in the comments below if you know of resources suitable for students in Kindergarten-Grade 3 (ages 5-8).