I want to evaluate a STEM initiative

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Why are evaluations important?

Evaluations can seem intimidating but they’re just a series of common sense steps. Evaluations are important because they help you understand the impacts of an initiative. They can be used for individual initiatives, schools and school-business partnerships to build understanding about what works in STEM education initiatives.

What can a STEM education initiative evaluation do for you?

An evaluation can tell you whether the initiative had a positive impact, and identify potential areas for improvement.

You can use this information to:

  • Be confident that what you are doing is making a difference.
  • Decide to continue or stop the initiative.
  • Change or extend the initiative (e.g. you might want to target a different group, change who is eligible to participate or change design).
  • Show value to funders, peers who might want to do something similar, and other stakeholders.

What can a STEM education initiative evaluation do for others?

By completing an evaluation, and sharing the results, you help others. You are building shared knowledge about what works, where and for whom. Others can in turn better target the STEM education initiative that will work best for them.

Undertaking an evaluation is a journey. Here you’ll see the 6 steps of the journey. Following them will make sure your evaluation is consistent and high-quality, and can be compared with other STEM education initiatives.

Why isn’t everyone already doing it, then?

Most people agree evaluations are important, but many don’t do them. This guide has been designed to help overcome these common issues:

Reasons why people decide not to evaluate an initiative  How this guide can help
Those involved in initiatives are busy running them, and frequently do not have the time to evaluate. Reduce the time and effort burden by providing straightforward guidance and templates for a smooth evaluation process. Provide opportunities to ramp up or down the complexity of the evaluation.
They don't know where to start. Provides prompts to help ask the right questions about your initiative.
They don't see the point as they feel confident they know whether it's working. You might be surprised what you find out! Even if you're not, you can share your conclusions to help others. By providing evidence, you might get support to extend your initiative. This guide will take you through the right steps.
It is difficult to manage the inherent issues with education evaluations:
  • Long lag times for impacts
  • Showing a direct connection between impact and the initiative (the technical term is 'causation')
This guide shows you ways to navigate these issues (e.g. how you can use reasonable assumptions and 'proxies' that could stand in for impacts that are hard to measure).
Evaluations should be independent, and people don't have the resources for an independent evaluator. Offers ideas on how to create an independent perspective without using an external person.

Ready to evaluate your initiative?

Great, this section of the Toolkit provides guidance about how to evaluate your STEM education initiative in 6 steps.

Standard steps to a quality STEM education initiative evaluation

The 6 steps you need to go through to complete an evaluation are based on criteria that should be common to every evaluation:

  1. Decide the purpose of your evaluation
  2. Pick who needs to be involved and how
  3. Build your evaluation framework
  4. Gather the evidence you need
  5. Develop your conclusions
  6. Make decisions, share the news

You can keep track of your progress through these steps with the checklist to evaluate an initiative.

These are standard steps and this Toolkit sets them out one by one. However, sometimes it will not be possible, or useful, to ask the questions one by one. You may need to revisit some earlier questions once you get new information. For example, evaluations often need to adjust what the evaluation is measuring if you can’t get relevant evidence. 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. This toolkit, and each of the steps, can be adjusted depending on the nature of the initiative, and the evaluation. This means your evaluation will be ‘fit for purpose’.

The STEM Equity Evaluation Portal (the Portal), an Australian Government initiative launched in 2022, will help you to evaluate equity when planning or reviewing current/future STEM initiatives. The Portal is a product of the Office of Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador and was developed in response to recommendations from the Women in STEM Decadal Plan for a standardised national evaluation framework that guides evaluation efforts across all existing and future STEM equity initiatives in Australia. 

The Portal is an extension of the Office’s National Evaluation Guide for STEM Equity Programs (the Guide). The Portal and Guide are complementary, user-friendly, with resources that offer practical advice to help STEM equity program leaders evaluate their programs. The Portal is also a searchable repository to discover program evaluations and learn what works and doesn’t work to improve equity. The evaluation planning and reporting tool aims to simply and easily evaluate your equity programs; share your evaluations publicly for others to learn from; and contribute evidence of what works to improve equity in STEM.