Identifying issues, improving activities and understanding results
Around the country, communities are conducting Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs in order to enable and encourage children to walk and bicycle safely to school. Communities tailor a combination of engineering, education, encouragement and enforcement strategies to address the specific needs of their schools. Evaluation is an important component of any SRTS program. Evaluation is used to determine if the aims of the strategies are being met and to assure that resources are directed toward efforts that show the greatest likelihood of success. Also, evaluation can identify needed adjustments to the program while it is underway. This information describes how to conduct a SRTS program evaluation that is tailored to that program’s objectives and strategies.
Benefits of Evaluation
Every SRTS program, no matter the size, can benefit from evaluation. For local programs, evaluation allows for:
- Making sure that the underlying problem is identified so that proper strategies to address the problem are picked. Sometimes a SRTS program begins without a good understanding of the underlying issues resulting in a less successful program.
- Setting reasonable expectations about what the program can do. By knowing the starting point, SRTS programs can set specific and reasonable objectives.
- Identifying changes that will improve the program. Part of evaluation is monitoring what happens throughout the life of a project so that mid-course corrections can be made, if needed, to improve chances of success.
- Determining if the program is having the desired results. This is a primary purpose of any evaluation and can be used to inform funding sources, the media, and the public to help build support for SRTS.
There are benefits that extend beyond an individual program. Data collected and shared by local programs can influence future funding at the local, state and national level. Today’s SRTS exists in part because of the evaluations of earlier programs. In the 1970s, Odense, Denmark, initiated SRTS efforts to combat the high rate of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries. Over a 20-year period, the number of injured school children in Odense decreased 30-40 percent. That success helped lead to the establishment of SRTS programs in the U.S. — first in the Bronx in New York City, then Congressionally-funded pilot programs in Arlington, MA, and Marin County, CA, and then state-level programs in Texas and California, as well as others. Evaluation of the success of those early programs in increasing walking and bicycling to school and reducing the numbers of parents driving their children to school, combined with strong demand, spurred Congress to establish the $612 million National Safe Routes to School Program in 2005. Findings from evaluations conducted by local programs will play a similarly important role when policymakers at the national, state, and local levels decide whether and how to continue SRTS programs.
This information is intended for all those who have an interest in the success of SRTS programs, particularly those seeking information about how to evaluate a local program. This information is written with local program implementers in mind — people who are busy and responsible for many tasks, who do not necessarily have experience with evaluation but are invested in the success of SRTS. It is not expected that readers intend to conduct a scientific research study. The information focuses on ways to gather information about a program’s progress, potential improvements and results that do not take lots of time or necessarily require a specialist.
Ideally, evaluation begins when the SRTS program is in the planning phase. However, the information in this section can be helpful for those with programs at other points, too, such as:
- Applying for funding in order to justify the request.
- Identifying problems and potential solutions if a part of the program is not having the desired impact.
- Conducting or completing a program to be able to identify successes or needed adjustments.
This information is designed primarily to assist in the development and implementation of a local SRTS program evaluation plan. It describes how the timing of evaluation corresponds to the life of a program; gives an overview of commonly used ways to collect data, including two ready-to-use data collection instruments (see student travel tally and parent survey); and then outlines a six step process for SRTS program evaluations.
If initial planning meetings have already taken place or an application for funding has been submitted, it is likely that the first step has already been accomplished. A worksheet provides a way for program implementers to organize their program information for each step and a completed worksheet serves as an example.
Every effort has been made to condense this information to the most vital information needed for a local SRTS program. Readers interested in developing a deeper understanding of evaluation are encouraged to review the resources.
Outline for module:
- When and How to Evaluate
- Collecting Safe Routes to School Information
- Evaluation in Six Steps
- A. Safe Routes to School Student Travel Tally
- B. Safe Routes to School Parent Survey
- C. Evaluation Worksheet
- D. Example Completed Evaluation Worksheet
- E. Working with an Evaluation Specialist
- F. Evaluation Designs
- G. Writing SMART Objectives
- H. Data Collection, Storage and Management
- I. Examples of What and How to Measure
- J. Working with the Media