There are different types of evaluations, and each type can help you make better decisions, depending on what stage you find yourself. In OTF’s free Evaluation E-Learning course, we’ve broken it down to these stages:
At the START of your program, really the conceptualizing and developing stage, you can use evaluation to help identify early on aspects that aren’t working, areas of concern, best ways to navigate challenges that arise and factors that might help you succeed. Consider using formative or developmental evaluation.
What we mean by the MIDDLE is really the implementation stage. Process and implementation evaluations can help you improve your program, and understand how your program was implemented (and if that matches what you intended).
Finally, at the FINISH aka when your program is fully fleshed out and being fully implemented, evaluation can help you measure outcomes (outcome evaluation), longer term intended and unintended impacts (impact evaluation), and fully understand the effectiveness of your program and make decisions about its continuation (summative evaluation).
In reality, there are often no clear cut stages and your evaluation can ask both process and outcome questions. However, these different types of evaluation do offer different approaches and methods, and are worth investigating. They can help you focus on what it is you are really trying to get out of your evaluation, and provide guidance for how you can do that.
Here’s an article that breaks it down a little more.