Program evaluation is the application of social research methods for systematic assessment of the impact of social interventions (Babbie, 2016). It is a part of evaluation research that aims at investigation, appraisal, and improvement of social intervention programs and their main elements such as “the diagnosis of the social problems they address, their conceptualization and design, their implementation and administration, their outcomes, and their efficiency” (Babbie, 2016, p. 405).
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The purpose of this paper is to examine an evaluation of the public program in Blantyre City, Malawi. It will also provide an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of the outcome-focused approach that was taken as a basis for the formative evaluation of the program.
There are three types of program evaluation approaches that help to improve its design and unsure accountability: outcome-focused evaluation, empowerment evaluation, and outcome-focused empowerment evaluation (Yuen, Terao, & Schmidt, 2013). Outcome-focused evaluation is a form of internal evaluation that allows determining whether change resulted from stakeholders’ involvement in the process or occurred by association (Yuen et al., 2013). Empowerment evaluation allows the participation of both program developers and beneficiaries in its evaluation. Outcome-focused empowerment evaluation is a combined approach to evaluation research that uses a staff of a program for assessment of its design, implementation, and outcome.
The researchers took an outcome-focused evaluation approach to determine whether the social program in Malawi produced the intended results. The choice of the evaluation approach is associated with numerous advantages. Unlike empowerment evaluation, which allows participation of program beneficiaries in its assessment, the outcome-focused evaluation does not rely on the delivery of information from beneficiaries of social intervention.
Taking into consideration the fact that Malawi communities participating in the program do not have sufficient economic background to assess its socioeconomic outcomes, the choice of outcome-focused evaluation would not have produced adequate results. Moreover, the involvement of government institutions of Malawi would have introduced an inherent bias associated with attempts of public officials to influence the data. Therefore, the use of independent researchers was the main advantage of the evaluation research approach. The same can be argued about outcome-focused empowerment evaluation which is also open to the induction of bias by program staff interested in skewing results of social intervention to produce the most favorable data justifying the provided services.
Therefore, the involvement of side researchers assisted in an unprejudiced assessment of whether the intervention helped to reach its initial goals. However, the main disadvantage of the use of the outcome-focused approach for examining the results of the program has to do with the fact that it precludes beneficiaries of the intervention from offering their feedback necessary for timely midcourse corrections. The lack of input from the program participants might also prevent its staff from effectively responding to “sudden changes which can inhibit effective implementation” (Khembo & Chapman, 2017, p. 8). Moreover, without measuring the reaction of the program beneficiaries to the changes introduced by it, the evaluation is opened to the induction of cultural bias preventing the researchers from adequately measuring “the experiences of low-income” citizens of Malawi.
The outcome-focused program evaluation approach allowed the evaluators to avoid the induction of government officials’ bias associated with the desire of Malawi public servants to show positive livelihood change. However, the lack of feedback from the program beneficiaries made it impossible to assess discrepancies between the results produces by researchers and participants of the social improvement measures.
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Babbie, E. R. (2016). The basics of social research. Boston, MA: Cengage Leaning.
Khembo, F., & Chapman, S. (2017). A formative evaluation of the recovery public works programme in Blantyre City, Malawi. Evaluation and Program Planning, 61(1), 8-21. Web.
Yuen, F. K. O., Terao, K. L., & Schmidt, A. M. (2013). Effective grant writing and program evaluation for human service professionals. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.