Evaluation FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is evaluation?

A. Evaluation has many definitions. Essentially, program evaluation involves applying systematic methods to collecting and analyzing data and information relevant to a program, service, or initiative. Here at Via Evaluation, we are guided by Michael Quinn Patton’s concept of Utilization Focused Evaluation, which emphasizes not only collecting and analyzing valid data but also helping clients use evaluation results.

We also provide traditional program evaluation services, as well as custom products tailored to the needs of your organization. Our focus is on helping your organization collect and use valid data to foster positive impact.

Q. What is the difference between research and evaluation?

A. Evaluation is, in many ways, a form of applied research. And, many of us here at Via Evaluation began our careers in the research world. In general terms, research helps move ideas and society forward through exploring new frontiers while evaluation focuses on using research methods to determine outcomes and improve programs in real-world situations.

E. Jane Davidson explains some of the researcher habits we have had to “unlearn” to be evaluators in her editorial Unlearning Some of our Social Scientist Habits. One of our favorite lines is, “Evaluations cannot provide useful answers unless they actually ask useful questions in the first place!” We believe strongly in the rigor of research, and read a lot of it, but are driven to apply our research skills to help your organization improve.

Q. Can’t I just hire a local grad student to conduct our evaluation?

A. If you have a very limited budget, hiring a graduate student or someone with limited applied evaluation experience could be the best option for you. Our clients see evaluation services as an investment in their programs’ development.

The staff at Via Evaluation have over 50 years of evaluation experience, share their experiences with each other, and attend a lot of professional development. We apply all we have learned to each individual project in a way that fits the context and budget for that project.

Our clients will tell you that our efficiency, tailoring, accessible explanations, and extensive expertise in methods and effective data and evaluation use have benefited their organization and the people they serve.

Q. We are applying for a grant that requires an evaluator. How do I find one and what should I look for in an evaluator?

A. We recommend first going to the American Evaluation Association (AEA) “Find an Evaluator” listings to search for AEA member organizations in your state. If you are in within 6 hours of our Buffalo offices or looking to work remotely with a high-quality evaluator, Via Evaluation may be the right fit for you. We also offer grant writing services that integrate grant writing expertise with evaluation expertise for cohesive program planning.

Some questions you might want to ask a potential evaluator include:

  • Do you have experience with this or similar grants?
  • How would your evaluation work help my organization understand results?
  • What do you charge? What services would we receive for that amount?
  • Can you provide references?
  • What role could you play in our grant and program planning?

Q. Our funding doesn’t require that we do evaluation, so why should I work with an evaluator?

A. We understand that budgets are limited, particularly among non-profits, but investing in evaluation services can help your organization in several ways.

  • Evaluation can help your organization understand if you are having a positive impact for the communities you serve.
  • If you find you are not having the impact you intend, evaluation can help you monitor and improve existing and new programming so you can achieve your mission.
  • Evaluators bring objectivity and rigor to a process that can be overwhelming for program or internal staff. Evaluation findings from a third party source are more meaningful to many funders, and can inform program improvement.
  • You may be wasting time and resources collecting excessive data that you can’t use to inform action. Evaluators can help you align data collection and focus your efforts on data that can help your organization.