Formative evaluation

Formative evaluation, which takes place as a project unfolds, can be more valuable to grantees than summative evaluation, which usually examines a project's outcomes at its conclusion. It can result in better project outcomes.

What is formative evaluation?

Formative evaluation is a continuous, learn-as-you-go approach. It is conducted throughout the duration of a project, which means findings can be taken into account in time to make changes while the project is still underway.

What are the benefits?

  • Formative evaluation can help to establish whether the expectations and goals associated with a project are realistic, while there is still time to change them.
  • Goals can be changed to be more realistic, with due consideration given to time and resource constraints.
  • Grantees can find formative evaluation far more valuable than standard evaluation, because they are able to see practical value in it.
  • Grantees can find that data produced for formative evaluations is useful to them in a way that the data they have to provide at the end of a project never has been.
  • Formative evaluation can support the provision of core operating support grants. One of the reasons often given for avoiding contributing to core costs is the difficulty of measuring the impact of a grant when there is no project end date associated with core costs.

What are the challenges?

  • Goal-shifting can be used to excuse poor performance (when it was not in fact the goals that were the problem).
  • The idea of ongoing evaluation can produce anxiety in grantees, which can create problems related to accessing information and the quality of data provided, as well as general dissatisfaction with program evaluation. Good communication can mitigate this issue. Grantees need to understand that you expect problems to be identified and changes to be made.

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