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Diane O. Dunet on Writing an Evaluation Purpose Statement

My name is Diane Dunet and I am a senior evaluator on the Evaluation and Program Effectiveness Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Our team members use a written purpose statement for our program evaluations.

In strategic planning, a mission statement serves as a touchstone that guides the choice of activities undertaken to achieve the goals of an organization. In evaluation, a purpose statement can serve as a similar touchstone to guide evaluation planning, design, implementation, and reporting.

Early in the evaluation process, evaluators on our team at CDC work with our evaluation sponsors (those requesting that an evaluation be conducted, for example a program manager) in order to understand and clarify the evaluation’s purpose. In many cases, the purpose of an evaluation is to improve a program. Other types of evaluation purposes include accountability, measuring effectiveness, assessing replicability of a program to other sites, determining what program components are essential, or making decisions about a program’s fate. We develop a written evaluation purpose statement and then refer to it during the entire evaluation process. An example purpose statement is:

The purpose of this evaluation is to provide an accountability report to the funder about the budgetary expenditures for client services delivered at 22 program sites. (Accountability.)

In the initial stages of evaluation, we are guided by the evaluation purpose when determining which program stakeholders should be involved in the evaluation in order to accomplish its purpose. We refer to the purpose statement to guide our evaluation design, seeking to match data collection methods and instruments appropriate to the evaluation purpose. We also use the evaluation purpose statement to guide us in tailoring our reports of evaluation results to align with the sponsor’s needs and the evaluation’s purpose.

Of course, evaluation findings can sometimes also be “re-purposed” to provide information in a way not originally intended, for example when program managers find ways to improve a program based on results of an evaluation for accountability.

Resource:  The CDC Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health provides a six-step approach to conducting program evaluation and is available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr4811a1.htm

Resource:  The CDC Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention sponsors a public health version of “Evaluation Coffee Breaks” modeled after the AEA Coffee Breaks. Information and archived sessions are available at http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/programs/nhdsp_program/evaluation_guides/index.htm

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6 thoughts on “Diane O. Dunet on Writing an Evaluation Purpose Statement”

  1. I came across your article while searching for one that would be of interest to me to respond to for my masters course. Your comparison of a mission statement with a purpose statement Your topic resonated with me as I found it comparative to developing lesson objectives when developing lesson plans for a class. You identify the purpose “the purpose of an evaluation is to improve a program” just as the purpose of a lesson is to improve student learning. When launching a lesson, sharing the objective with the students makes it clear as to what the purpose of the lesson is, where it is to take the students with their knowledge and skills. With program evaluations, the purpose statement fulfills a similar purpose and is revisited to continuously guide the evaluators.You mention how the purpose statement is used when selecting methods to collect data and appropriate instruments. Similarly teachers would use their lesson objective to help select the best teaching methods and assessment tools and strategies.
    I was wondering, when evaluators work
    with the program sponsors, are there other stakeholders (public) invovled in the process of developing a purpose statement? Would this lead to risk of bias with intentionality being a challenge?

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge here.

  2. Soory I missed seeing my own post! Thanks for comments. Yes, it often does take some time for a group of individuals who are evaluation sponsors to settle on a purpose. However the process has also been helpful in launching a meaningful discussion among sponsors about assumptions with regard to how the results will be used and how much they wish to be involved in the evaluation activities.

    1. Dear Ms. Dunet,

      My name is Raymond Gianfrancesco and I am a student at Queen’s University. I am currently enrolled in Program Inquiry and Evaluation, an introductory course in program evaluation for a Master’s degree in Education. One of our assignments is to correspond with an author of an evaluation article posted to the AEA365 web site.
      I found your article “Diane O. Dunet on Writing an Evaluation Purpose Statement” posted January 25th 2011 very insightful. Your work with the CDC must have some very serious implications and make each evaluation all the more important.
      After reading your article I have a few questions about your approach to evaluation and how you go about dealing with stakeholders. Firstly when constructing a purpose statement, how do you determine who will be involved in the drafting of this document? Is the evaluation statement meant to steer evaluators only or will it have some impact on stakeholders as well? Given the relative involvement of stakeholders and the potential conflicts between stakeholders and evaluators (particularly when a program’s fate is being determined) how do you ensure objectivity? Does an evaluation purpose statement help to clarify roles?
      Thank you for taking the time to read this response as well as your contribution to the study of evaluation. I hope to hear back from you and to continue reading your published material.

      Sincerely, Raymond Gianfrancesco

  3. Motlhakeng Lethapa

    Thanks for the good advice on purpose of evaluation. I am writing a proposal for a research thesis to evaluate an academic program. The program is still on-going and has been since 2008. I want to know if i can do a summative implementation evaluation to find out what effects it had on those who completed the programme, It’s a 2 year certificate programme.

  4. Diane, Thanks for sharing this critical step that is often overlooked in the rush to get started. Do you find that groups can easily identify the purpose of their evaluation or does it take some discussion?
    ~ Samantha Grant
    University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development

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