In the January 16, 2020 post, I discussed grant writing for gifted educators. In today’s post I address how program evaluation aligned with a project’s research agenda can enhance your project, and provide good reasons to include an external evaluator in your project.
Program evaluation: enhance your proposal and your project
Respond to the call for proposals. The first reason to focus on evaluation in your grant proposal is because funders ask for it. We know that the key rule of grant writing is to include all the elements that the funder seeks. Most education-focused grant programs at the National Science Foundation, National Institutes for Health, and US Department of Education require an explanation of how grant activities and outcomes will be evaluated.
Support program implementation and improvement. Evaluation is not just important because the funder asks for this, but also because evaluation can help support a team’s work and can provide information and feedback that could improve the success of the project.
Program evaluators speak of two types of evaluation: formative and summative. Formative evaluation collects information and provides feedback to a project team about progress and perception of activities. This information can help the team understand if they are on track to complete project activities, if changes to the project plan or timeline should be considered, and if the expectations of the project participants and stakeholders are being met. Summative evaluation focuses on the outcomes of grant activities and assesses the impact of a program on participants and the extent to which a program resulted in expected outcomes.
Program evaluation aligned with the research agenda
External evaluation and research activities can focus on similar areas and use similar, or even the same data, to answer different questions. An evaluator can be assessing the extent to which a curriculum meets teacher needs, provides sufficient support and materials for implementation, and engages the interest of students. Concurrently, the research team can be examining the connection between student engagement and motivation.
Research and evaluation plans should be closely aligned to ensure efficient and complete data collection while avoiding repetitive or intrusive data collection. Communicating to grant reviewers, program participants, and stakeholders that the research and evaluation efforts are aligned and coordinated helps build trust and shows respect for participants.
In order to create an aligned plan, engage an evaluator early in your planning and proposal writing process. Developing an evaluation plan along with the research agenda can help align and organize data collection activities and ensure that all required information and data be available by project end.
External evaluation support
No doubt you are thinking “since the research team is already studying the project, can’t the research team just collect information about implementation and participant feedback?” Yes, that is possible. However, here a few reasons a skilled and experienced evaluator should be engaged.
First, an outside perspective is helpful. Evaluators can help shed light on a theory of action that is missing a step or help clarify assumptions at program onset. Discussions with an evaluator often help solidify thinking about project work and can position a project for successful implementation.
Experience is another reason. Experienced evaluators can offer a broad knowledge about assessment tools, data collection practices, and evaluation methodologies that can improve the work of the team. These skills can improve research efforts, as well, allowing you to focus on answering the questions that are of interest to you and your research agenda. A skilled independent evaluator should not come to your project to answer his or her own questions, they should come to your project with the goal of answering the questions that will help ensure that your program runs smoothly, and as intended.
And finally, an evaluator can help disseminate results, new practices, or innovative methods to different audiences. Evaluators can share innovations in assessment tools and methods, data collection strategies, analysis methods, and effective data visualization and reporting efforts. Often evaluators are willing to accompany principal investigators and project teams to conferences or professional meetings to help share and promote project outcomes.
With the right partner, external evaluation support can be a benefit to any project. If you have an idea for a grant submission that you would like to discuss, please email me at Tania@CenseoGroup.com. Our team would be excited to work with your team to develop your idea, to support your grant writing and grant evaluation efforts, and to increase research about effective programming for, gifted learners.
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