Playgroups evaluation guide
What is evaluation?
Evaluation is something that we all do informally every day. We ask questions and make judgements and decisions based on the information we receive. Evaluation of a program simply formalises this through a systematic process of collection and analysis of information about the activities, characteristics and outcomes of a program with the purpose of making judgements about the program (Zint, n.d., citing Patton, 1987). Evaluation can take place at different times during a project for different purposes.
Evaluation serves two main purposes. Firstly, to determine whether or not playgroups are making a positive difference for children, parents/carers and families and secondly, to understand how and why a playgroup has worked (or not) and how it can be improved. Evaluation is also useful in informing decision-makers of ways to improve their playgroup offerings and in learning why things have worked or not worked (National Centre for Sustainability, 2011).
How can evaluation be used?
As well as helping to improve playgroups, evaluation can be used to make decisions about the allocation of resources and the continuation of programs. It can identify what the benefits associated with playgroups are, which participants' playgroups benefit most, and which conditions are necessary for these benefits to occur (Dadich & Spooner, 2008).
What types of evaluation are there?
Broadly speaking, evaluations fall into the following categories:
- Needs assessment. A needs assessment is often undertaken as part of program planning to determine what issues exist in an area or with a particular group and what the priorities for action are.
- Process evaluation. Process evaluation is usually undertaken while a program is being implemented or at certain milestones within program implementation. Process evaluation provides information on how a program is working. It is usually used to improve a program and to see if a program is being delivered as intended (and, as such, if it is likely to achieve its outcomes).
- Outcome evaluation. An outcome evaluation looks at what has changed because of the program. It can be undertaken at the end of a program or at a particular stage (e.g., at the conclusion of a 12-week program or annually). The time frame will depend on the program (World Health Organization [WHO], 2013). See this Outcome Evaluation Plan template.
The playgroups evaluation guide focuses largely on outcome evaluation.
Key steps and considerations when planning for evaluation are outlined in more detail in the chart and each following chapter.