A program evaluation is an analysis that takes into consideration the effectiveness, cost and impact of a short- or long-term program. Such evaluations come in many different formats, styles and lengths, and can be manual or technology-enabled. To determine which evaluation is best for you, you'll need to consider what information you wish to uncover and from whom. You will also need to take your time frame and budget into consideration.
Generally speaking, a program differs from a project in that programs are usually either ongoing or recurring, whereas projects are one-time initiatives. When evaluating a project, the main goal is to decide if you accomplished what you set out to do on time and on budget. A program evaluation, however, is often far more complex. It might be administered while the program is in process or might follow a specific event, such as an annual conference in preparation for future conferences.
When performing a program evaluation, you might have a number of goals. For example, you might want to know whether you met your budget; whether you met governmental or regulatory requirements; and whether you met certain measurable goals, such as enrollment numbers or a reduction in workplace accidents. All of these answers can be found through research of internal documents or comparison of internal documents to regulations, and then included in a program evaluation.
You may also, however, want to find out whether your program met the needs of the people involved. For example, if you have developed a program geared toward educating the people in your town about local political candidates running for election, you may want to find out how effective the townspeople found the program. In this case, you would need to survey a number of the people involved and would want to ask if the program was convenient, helpful, and easy to understand, for instance.
Depending on your goals, you may be able to design and conduct your own program evaluation. You could alternatively purchase a computer program that will do it for you or hire a firm that specializes in this type of study. When performing an evaluation, you may want to offer manual participant surveys at the time of an event, conduct a focus group, send surveys by email or regular mail, or host an online forum for comments and suggestions.
Each of these strategies and methodologies has pros and cons. Certain evaluation methods take more time than others, and pricing may differ dramatically. Weigh each option against your goals and budgets to determine which is most appropriate for your needs.