Ask a group of grant writers to name one of the most difficult sections of a proposal to write, and I can guarantee the evaluation section will be near–if not at–the top of the list. Writing evaluation sections can be frustrating, overwhelming, and nearly impossible at times. There has to be a happy medium between counting the number of times a student turns on a computer and the intricate statistical analyses that most of us learned and quickly forgot while we were at college.
A new publication from the U.S. Department of Education may help you write this difficult section of a grant proposal. The publication, called “An Educator’s Guide to Evaluating the Use of Technology in Schools and Classrooms,” by Sherri Quinones, Rita Kirshstein, and Nancy Loy, is designed to help district and school personnel gain an overview of, and ideas for, evaluating local technology initiatives. (I believe grant writers will find this publication helpful for writing the evaluation sections in grants for other initiatives as well.)
First, it’s important to understand why evaluations must be conducted and why this section is asked for in proposals. Projects are undertaken to have an impact. While evaluations are conducted to show the success of a project’s impact, they can also point out the weaknesses of the project’s design. In his book Effective Evaluation: A Systematic Approach for Grantseekers and Project Managers, author Michael Gershowitz discusses the different types of evaluation approaches in simple terms.
Some funders prefer that evaluations are conducted throughout the life of the project, rather than saving it until the proposed project is winding down to a close. This type of evaluation, known as formative, enables project staff to measure the success of the project while it is being carried out and to make any adjustments needed to ensure the project’s success. Usually, formative evaluation emphasizes the process that was conducted during the project.
Some funders ask for an evaluation at the very end of the project that reports its accomplishments. This is known as a summative evaluation and usually stresses the outcome of the project.
A quantitative evaluation obtains and analyzes data covering a large number of cases. On the other hand, qualitative evaluations seek to collect data of greater depth on a smaller number of cases.
For some projects, it might be advisable or required to conduct both formative and summative evaluations. Gershowitz recommends that you not limit your evaluation to the type required by the funder, but decide on an evaluation approach that best serves the needs of the clients. He also advises being careful not to overemphasize an evaluation design that you think might be a sticking point in a proposal.
The vital key to writing an evaluation section is to have meaningful and measurable objectives–the two are intertwined. If the objectives are written in vague terms and can’t be measured, the evaluation section will be vague and weak, at best. With measurable objectives, the evaluation section will become a natural extension and will be relatively easy to compose.
It might help to think of objectives as the purpose of your project, the “things” that are left when the project is over. Usually, objectives are written in terms of increases and/or decreases. For example, specific types of skills, such as problem-solving, will show an increase while undesirable behaviors, such as truancy, will show a decrease.
Unfortunately, too many people writing grants for technology initiatives write objectives based solely on the usage of the technology equipment. These types of objectives are not wrong per se, they just do not go far enough to show the impact of a project. Evaluations can include interviews, observations, questionnaires, and record reviews. It is important to use the proper evaluation instruments to get the strongest data.
How do you decide what you need to do in your evaluation? The U.S. Department of Education publication is organized in sections by typical questions one might ask while going through the evaluation process. Each section includes examples, worksheets, and ideas for additional resources. The following questions are addressed: Why am I evaluating? What is an evaluation anyway? Where do I start? What questions should I ask? What information do I need to collect? What’s the best way to collect my information? What are my conclusions? How do I communicate my results? Where do I go from here?
In addition to using print resources to write successful evaluation sections of proposals, I would also suggest contacting colleagues from a higher education institution and asking for their assistance. Often, many faculty have experience writing research grants containing evaluation components. They can help you craft your evaluation design and/or review your evaluation section for clarity and quality.
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect evaluation and that evaluations are nothing to be afraid of. Conducting successful evaluations and writing clear evaluation sections are within your reach, using the proper techniques!