Formative Evaluation: What You Can Do Pre-Award that Will Help You Post-Award

At the time it is written, a grant proposal is our best snapshot of the future. Although it may be a well-developed vision, it is still only a vision. After your project is funded, formative evaluation is key in determining the effectiveness of your project. If certain components of your project are not working, you can and should change direction. If some activities are functioning particularly well, you can identify which ones these are and build them into your sustainability strategy.


First, what is formative evaluation?


Formative evaluation represents all of the data collected throughout the project to measure progress towards achievement of the goals and objectives. When the project begins, formative assessment begins. Formative evaluations may contain items such as quarterly reports generated by the project director detailing progress toward objectives. Other examples of formative assessments include the completion of annual activities on the project timeline with projected deliverables, the measurement of participation levels of the target audience, and evaluations of staff accomplishments.


Here are two tips for what you can do while developing your grant proposal that will prepare you for formative evaluation:


Read the Reporting Section of the RFP
Sometimes, in our haste to attend to each detail in the Request for Proposals (RFP) that concerns proposal development, we skip through the section that discusses reporting requirements if the grant is awarded. Some funders require only a final summative report, but others may request reports more often, such as quarterly. The type of information required in a report can be as simple as reporting the number of participants served or as complex as calculating a social benefits return on investment for participants.


If any special data on project participants is required at certain intervals, be sure to include it on the grant proposal’s project timeline. This is also a good time to consider how you will collect qualitative information about the project, such as success stories, photos of activities, and press clippings. These items demonstrate to your funder that they will reap the most positive outcomes from their investment in your organization.


Formative evaluation flows from the objectives written in the grant proposal. Objectives that are written well in the grant proposal are realistic, measurable, time-bound, and associated with a specific measurement instrument.


Build Formative Evaluation into the Project Timeline
Many grant proposals require a timeline of activities. This is an excellent opportunity to put your vision of the project from beginning to end down on paper. Using as many details and specifics as possible, build measurements for formative assessment into the timeline.


All of this hard work on the front end makes it much easier to evaluate activities when you receive the grant. It is worth an early investment of time because a good formative evaluation establishes the foundation for the summative evaluation, which determines whether the project has met its goals and whether lasting, transformational change has occurred. When you are assigning data for the baselines of objectives, make sure it is accurate and can be recreated. For example, if your university claims that only 26 percent of students enrolled in developmental mathematics in fall 2014 passed the class with an A, B, or C, you will need a way to replicate this data should you receive the grant. Otherwise, you will have to negotiate with the funder to propose a different baseline number.


For more information on program evaluation see the W.K. Kellogg Evaluation Handbook.


About the Author: Barbara Norris Coates is Grant Development Consultant from La Grange Highlands, Illinois. She specializes in education.


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