AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

TAG | economic evaluation

My name is Steve Kymes and I am the Director of the Center for Economic Evaluation in Medicine (CEEM) at Washington University in St. Louis. At CEEM, we assist investigators conducting clinical or community based research design, and implement and conduct cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness studies. While it may often seem that conducting valid and credible economic evaluation is simply a matter of basic arithmetic, it always requires thoughtful planning and is best done with the benefit of a multidisciplinary team.

Hot Tip #1: Make sure you know why you are doing the economic evaluation. In the language of economic evaluation we say that this is considering the “perspective of the analysis.” More pragmatically, you should always remember that the purpose of the program evaluation (and thus the economic component of it) is to influence one or more policy makers or stakeholders. That being the case, you need to be aware of what is important to that audience. Everything in the analysis—the definition of cost, how cost will be measured, the measures of effectiveness (or benefit), and the methods of estimation used are all determined by the perspective of the decision maker. So this should be the very first question you answer before you do anything else.

Hot Tip #2: As with so much else in program evaluation, your work will be much easier and the results will have increased validity if you involve people from the organization being evaluated. However, it is even more critical in this area of evaluation than with others. Assessment of cost data often takes the evaluator out of his/her area of expertise, and may also be beyond the expertise of the primary contacts at the organization as well. Therefore, it is essential to make early contact with the accounting and operations staff of the organization to learn how resources are tracked, costing methods used, and how data can be extracted.

Hot Tip #3: Experts in economic evaluation go by a number of descriptions–some are economists, some are outcomes researchers, and often, they have an MBA and a strong background in accounting or finance. Whoever they are, you will have a stronger result and avoid heading down many blind alleys if you involve an expert in your evaluation team from the very beginning. They will help you understand how to design the most efficient study, assist in interacting with the organization’s accounting team, and help you to communicate your results to policy makers.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to



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