LAWG Week: Helen Holmquist-Johnson on Using Process Evaluation to Capture the Diversity of Colorado

Greetings from Colorado – Home of the Southern Rocky Mountains and the edge of the Great Plains. My name is Helen Holmquist-Johnson and I am the Assistant Director of the Social Work Research Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Colorado is not only geographically diverse, but incredibility diverse in terms of the demographic characteristics of the communities and the individuals who live here. Some of my recent work focuses on evaluating evidence-based programs that promote strengthening families and keeping children safe and healthy.

In Colorado, the Division of Child Welfare is a state supervised, county administered system. In fact, Colorado is one of only nine states in the U.S. where the administrative structure of Child Welfare can be described this way. Each county, while held to the same State and Federal requirements, can individually decide how to operate and deliver child welfare services to families. This arrangement increases the level of autonomy the counties have on everything from which programs they implement, to utilizing different models of leadership and supervision. In a state with 64 counties (I know some of you are already ahead of me here), this structure introduces some unique evaluation challenges.

This is where process evaluation becomes useful and important. What might be missed or overlooked in an outcomes evaluation can be captured by asking process evaluation questions. In general, these questions focus on who the program reaches and whether or not the program was carried out as planned. Because we are evaluating evidence-based models, our interest shifts somewhat from asking does the program work, to asking how, why and in what context or conditions does the program work? As you can see, these are the questions which are important to ask when working in 64 different counties throughout the state. Answers to these questions will assist county administrators and other stakeholders in making policy and practice decisions which consider the contextual factors unique to their community and families.

Rad Resource: For specifics about how to design and conduct a process evaluation, read Steckler, A., and Linnan, L. (Eds.), Process Evaluation in Public Health Interventions and Research.

Hot Tip for Denver: If you have children and family coming with you to Evaluation 2014 in Denver you might want to check out The Children’s Museum of Denver and The Butterfly Pavilion.

We’re looking forward to October and the Evaluation 2014 annual conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to

1 thought on “LAWG Week: Helen Holmquist-Johnson on Using Process Evaluation to Capture the Diversity of Colorado”

  1. Pingback: My Chosen Program and its Context – PME 802: Program Inquiry and Evaluation

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