The Timing of Evaluation
The evaluation process mirrors the lifespan of a program. It ideally begins when the program is initially formulated and ends after a program ends. Evaluation helps in different ways at different times in the program’s life. Each time provides important information that can strengthen or improve a program.
- Before the program collects baseline information and helps plan the program.
- During the program identifies progress and/or challenges and areas needing improvements.
- After the program identifies changes in behaviors, attitudes and/or the physical environment and informs decisions about the future of the program.
Before the Program Begins
Understanding what is happening in a community and around a school requires the collection of baseline information in order to discover barriers and assets to walking and bicycling and to understand the circumstances before a program takes place. Baseline data collection also serves as a reference point against which to compare conditions during and after the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program, such as the number of walkers. This evaluation stage is also called formative assessment.
During the Program
This information gathering occurs while the program or a particular activity is underway. Monitoring what activities are being done during the program is a way to check that a program is doing what it planned to do and to identify improvements to make along the way. It can reveal what is working and what is not and can allow for quick fixes. For example, if the program includes crossing guards and the evaluation reveals that the parents are not obeying them, then there is the opportunity to work toward solving that problem right away. Evaluation during the program usually includes counting things such as the number of education sessions taught, the number of walkability checklists completed or the number of fliers distributed — all related to what activities are being conducted. This kind of monitoring continues through the life of a program as a way to report on what took place. This evaluation stage is also called process evaluation.
After the Program
This data collection occurs after the program or activity is completed and can reveal the program’s effects. The same evaluation tools used to collect data before the program was implemented are used to gather data after the program’s completion. The evaluation consists of measuring changes in knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, or the physical or social environment from before the SRTS activity or project occurred to after the activity or project ended (or yearly). This is also called outcome evaluation. Additionally, the project conclusion is when the data collected during the program are summarized in order to understand what took place and whether the planned activities were conducted as intended. Summarizing this information helps make sense of the outcome evaluation results because it explains the context in which the results were achieved.