“Diverse,” “exciting,” and “growing” are some of the best words to describe the profession of program evaluation today.
What do professional evaluators do?
Program evaluators systematically investigate the quality of programs of all kinds and all sizes, including:
- educational and school-based programs.
- recreational programs.
- charitable programs.
- human service programs.
- health-care programs.
- government programs.
Program evaluators study programs using tools from many different research traditions in order to figure out if programs are working and how programs might work better.
Program evaluators work with the people who commission an evaluation and are affected by its findings to make sure that the findings are understood accurately and properly used.
Evaluators produce information for people who:
- make decisions about programs.
- run programs.
- design programs.
- fund programs.
- use programs.
These audiences can use evaluations in lots of different ways, including accountability, improvement, and learning.
What kind of training do program evaluators have?
People who work as program evaluators have diverse professional training.
Evaluators may have a background in program evaluation, in a social science (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work) or in a field such as education, communications, economics, public health, nursing, or medicine.
No matter what their background, evaluators also have training in:
- professional guidelines on ethical and appropriate evaluation practices.
- diverse forms of systematic inquiry specific to evaluating programs.
- managing evaluations.
- written and oral communication.
- competent interpersonal interaction.
How has evaluation changed over the prior decade?
Evaluation has grown dramatically over the past decade in the United States and around the globe. The number of people who are members of the American Evaluation Association, the largest professional society of evaluators in the world, has more than doubled since 2001! There are about 160 active professional societies for evaluators worldwide.
Major government institutions have established policies on evaluation in the last decade, including the U.S. State Department and theU.S. Agency for International Development, helping to grow the field. Government policies, such as the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) -- which requires routine government performance assessments -- have also given evaluation a huge professional boost by establishing the important role evaluation plays in making society better and assuring investments in programs are well spent.
Other professional trends that are shaping the future include:
- movements to certify and accredit evaluation professionals in some countries.
- emphasis on evaluating the quality of evaluations.
- increasing calls for accountability and for evidence-based programming and practices.
These trends mean that specialized training in program evaluation will be in even greater demand moving forward.
What type of job could I get with a Master of Arts (M.A.) Degree in Program Evaluation?
With an M.A. in program evaluation, you could work in any number of settings, including:
- non-profit organizations such as foundations or social services agencies.
- schools and other educational institutions.
- health care organizations.
- government agencies.
- corporate evaluation firms.
Evaluation Careers in Organizations
Many organizations from school districts to community-based organizations to hospitals have internal departments dedicated to program evaluation. In these departments, evaluators typically conduct evaluations to help their colleagues and the organization’s leaders assess potential consumers’ needs, improve internal programs, and determine if programs are meeting objectives or benefitting consumers.
There are also evaluation firms that are contracted to conduct external evaluations on behalf of diverse clients. Some of these clients come through bidding on contracts and others request the firm’s services.
Evaluation Careers in Government
State and federal government agencies also have roles for evaluation specialists; most have staffs that conduct evaluations to hold government units accountable for their performance and to investigate policies and programs at the request of elected officials.
Master’s-level evaluators are on staff in these contexts to direct or assist with all aspects of evaluation projects.
Independent Consulting Careers in Evaluation
There is also the option of working as a consultant. This involves winning bids for evaluation contracts and then designing, conducting, and reporting findings to your client. This work can either be done independently or with a team of other evaluation professionals. For more information on evaluation consulting, check out Gail Barrington’s book Consulting and Start-up Management.
Program Evaluation Career Examples
Check out some of the organizations that hire master’s level evaluators and some of the websites of independent evaluation specialists: