Part 1: Planning for Evaluation

Getting from program theory to evaluation plan

If you work in the nonprofit sector, your organization probably has some combination of vision, mission, values, and program goals. But how will you monitor your progress toward achieving these? This section works through the process of translating vision/mission/goals into tangible, measurable outcomes starting with a theory of change and ending with a solid evaluation plan.

What is a Theory of Change? What is a Logic Model?

A theory of change defines all of the building blocks necessary to achieve a given long-term goal. A theory of change explicitly shows a causal pathway leading from program activities to long-term outcomes, but need not be limited to a single program.

A logic model is a descriptive summary of program theory. It lays out a series of steps showing how program inputs, activities, and outputs lead to outcomes. A key function of a logic model is to identify the questions one can address through evaluation.

What is an Evaluation Plan? How do you create one?

Evaluation is defined as a determination of the merit, worth, value, or significance of something. Program evaluation answers three basic questions about a program: “What?”, “So What?”, and “Now What?”[1] An evaluation plan clearly lays out the methods by which these questions will be answered.

Typically, evaluation planning involves a series of steps:

  1. Create a logic model
  2. Identify the purpose and audience for evaluation
  3. Use your logic model to identify and prioritize evaluation questions
  4. Decide what indicators will answer your evaluation questions
  5. Select data sources or methods that will provide information on your indicators
  6. Generate a comprehensive data collection, analysis, and reporting plan
  7. Create and evaluation timeline and budget

The resources in this section can provide further guidance on these steps.


[1] Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization-focused evaluation. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.