By Jennifer Koza
March 3, 2017
You know that feeling you get from having experience- that feeling of “I know what I am doing is working?” Have you ever been discussing that experience with someone and they ask you how you “know”- what’s your evidence? Often the only response is to keep repeating “because I know”; this can make it difficult to convince others.
While learned experience of what works and what doesn’t is helpful to an individual, sharing that knowledge to others can be hard because there is a lack of a common language. The same is true for social services programs. While the program type may be similar, each individual program is not exactly the same. A program evaluation can help develop a shared language around program effectiveness so that information can be used by both the program being evaluated and similar programs looking to improve. It can also be used to justify funding for a program and/or satisfy requirements of current funding.
Program Evaluation: What Is It?
Put simply, program evaluation is what it sounds like: it answers the question of “does this program work?” It is an assessment of a program, a way for a program to systematically gather information about itself related to its effectiveness.
So, how does a program do this? To systematically gather information, an evaluation uses measures- a standard unit to express the size, amount, or degree of something. But how does a program know what to measure? The program needs to define expected outcomes or results.
3 Tips for Victim Services Program Evaluation
The concept of program evaluation, on the surface, is easy enough to understand. However, evaluation of victim service programs can present unique challenges. Here are 3 tips to keep in mind when planning an evaluation of a victim service program:
1. Use a victim-centered approach
This may seem obvious, but if you plan your evaluation and define outcomes that don’t take into account the victim’s perspective, health and safety, you risk losing site of your program’s larger purpose. A victim-centered approach in evaluation will reduce or minimize the risk of re-traumatization and should be incorporated into each aspect of an evaluation plan.
2. Make sure your evaluation is population specific
Victim services present unique challenges that are specific to the type of population the program serves and an evaluation should reflect the population. In the planning stages of an evaluation it is critical to think through potential barriers/challenges to outcomes within the specific population. An effective evaluation is catered to understanding the unique needs, challenges and opportunities to the population served.
3. Understand outcomes will vary among victimizations
Just as victim service programs are unique from other social service programs, the survivors’ specific victimizations are unique as well. A program that serves survivors of community violence will produce varying outcomes from a program that serves survivors of elder abuse.
Want to Know More?
If you are interested in learning more about effective evaluations of victim service programs, the National Domestic Violence Resource Center and the Violence Reduction Clearinghouse are great places to start.
Learn about Safe Horizon’s Evaluation Work by visiting our Policy & Research page.