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What is Program Evaluation?

“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 the U.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. 

I'm interested in an evaluation career. What should I do next?

Consider applying for the Master of Arts in Program Evaluation program at Michigan State University, or contact us for more information.


Now accepting applications for Spring 2020. Deadline: Nov. 1, 2019.


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